Howard Holinsworth is a diabetes success story

  • Published
  • By Delia Hansen
  • Directorate of Manpower and Personnel
(Editor's note: This is the third of a four part series featuring Tinker employees with disabilities. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The national campaign is designed to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. This year's theme is "A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?")

A staggering 21 million Americans of all ages -- 7 percent of the nation's population -- have diabetes. And, nearly one-third of diabetics, around 6 million people, don't even know they have the disease. Diabetes can strike at any age, but it is often associated with old age, obesity, family history, previous history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity and certain ethnicities.

Howard Holinsworth, a packaging specialist with the 420th Supply Chain Management Squadron, knows those facts all too well. He was around 30 years old when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and must monitor his blood sugar levels throughout the day. He tests his levels before and after he eats and then administers the proper dose of insulin accordingly. He tests his blood sugar three to five times per day, eats three small meals a day along with snacks in between. He has learned over time how his body will react to the foods he eats and can just about guess what his blood sugar levels will be before he tests it.

Much of the food people eat is turned into sugar in the blood for the body's use for energy. A hormone produced by the pancreas called insulin helps the sugar in the blood get into the body's cells.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes results from the body's failure to produce insulin, and requires the person to inject insulin or wear an insulin pump. Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to use insulin properly, sometimes combined with an absolute insulin deficiency.

According to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop gradually and may include such symptoms as fatigue, frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and slow healing of wounds or sores. Some people have no symptoms at all. All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Both types 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that cannot be cured.

Mr. Holinsworth takes his diabetes very seriously; he has a strong family history of diabetes. His grandmother and several uncles were diabetic, and as a child he watched their battles. Their disease made an impression on him. High blood sugar levels can harm a person's eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.

Mr. Holinsworth watches everything he eats and drinks. He tries to avoid foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, but does succumb to temptation at times.

He did a lot of research and learned a lot about how the body breaks down carbohydrates. Since being diagnosed, Mr. Holinsworth has cut his carbohydrate in-take in half. He knows controlling carbohydrate consumption is the key to lowering insulin needs. He will deny himself foods, especially if he doesn't have his medication with him.

At one point in his life, Mr. Holinsworth lost 30 pounds. His body was "out-of-balance," he said. It was at that point when the oral medications were no longer effective and he became "insulin-dependent." But, for many years now, he has had the disease under "somewhat decent control."

Mr. Holinsworth said having confidence in your doctor and being able to talk with him or her is very important. Learning as much as you can about the disease is very important, he said. When he was first diagnosed, he asked his doctor a lot of questions.

At the present time, Mr. Holinsworth worries about damaging his feet. "Good shoes are an important part of staying healthy," he said. People with diabetes must be careful not to damage their feet; blisters and sores on the feet are often undetected and become infected. Up to 25 percent of people with diabetes develop foot problems. Diabetes damages the blood vessels and the nerves when the insulin is not absorbed. Feet become numb and feel like they are on fire, this is called neuropathy. Many people with diabetes damage their toes and feet to the point that they are eventually amputated.

"Diabetes is more of a nuisance than a disability, although it can definitely become one," Mr. Holinsworth said.

He is doing a lot of things right in managing his diabetes. Over the past 12 years, he's used only one day of sick leave to stay home, and that was doctor's orders due to an unrelated contagious illness. He claims the key to his success is his attitude: accepting that he has diabetes and trying to adjust his lifestyle to deal with it -- like eating right and exercising regularly (he is a big fan of the "Fit for Life" program).

Mr. Holinsworth has been working at Tinker since 1985. He was first hired by the Air Force in the Wash Rack. He later transferred to the Defense Logistics Agency as a packer/wood worker and eventually became a worker leader. In 2000, he transferred back to the Air Force as a wood worker in which he designed and built a variety of prototype shipping containers for specialized aircraft parts. He enjoys the work, loves the subject matter and finds it challenging.

Mr. Holinsworth has one daughter and two granddaughters, ages 11 and 12. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his granddaughters. He takes them to most of their soccer practices and games and attends their dance recitals.

New research is leading the way toward better therapies and improved quality of life for many people with diabetes. Monitoring sugar levels, diet, exercise and medication are important aspects to those individuals diagnosed with diabetes. Another step toward leading a healthy life with type 2 diabetes is learning some new habits. These include choosing what, how much and when to eat, getting physically active, checking blood sugar levels, going to doctors' appointments, learning all you can about diabetes and taking medicine as prescribed by a doctor.