Mark Adrignola's Battle With Diabetes
July 27, 2019

This is the success story of Mark Adrignola written in his own words about his fight with diabetes and having a gastric bypass.

The following story is written by Mark.

The start in 2009

It was the best of diets. It was the worst of diets. In 2009, I had a gastric bypass. They told me I would lose my excess weight and it would cure my diabetes. The surgeon said, “you won’t have any problems for the first few years.” I didn’t think to ask what happens after that. So this is tale of two lifestyles.

A Before and After.

A Then and Now.

Vegan and Paleo.

It is all of that.

The surgery did all the work in 2010. I lost a total of 130 lbs, most of it in that year alone. But it did not quite cure diabetes. I believe there is hereditary diabetes and cultural diabetes. But what one Paleo book advised me is that "heredity loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger." So true. 

When I retired to Thailand in 2011, I wanted a clean bill of health and the weight loss doctor had advised me to try a vegan diet. Worst mistake I could ever make. Not because it was vegan, just not bariatric and vegan.

While it is true there is more protein in 100 calories of broccoli than there is in 100 calories of beef, you would need a lot of broccoli packed into my tiny, new stomach they now called "a pouch." Meat is dense. That's all there was to it. But it took me 2 years and a tragic mistake to learn it.

In 2013, I collapsed in the Tesco Lotus parking lot at On Nut. I was resuscitated in a hospital emergency room to find out my blood sugar had bottomed out. I did not reduce my insulin intake sufficiently enough to compensate for the malnutrition created by my eating deficiencies on the vegan diet. I suppose if you ate enough beans and broccoli, it could have been avoided, but I never educated myself adequately enough nor consulted a dietician to properly prevent this. At this point forward, all I did was reduce my insulin drastically. All seemed fine

Fast forward to 2015

In 2015, my legs started to swell.

I boarded a plane to the US for Medicare enrollment just in time to find out what was wrong. I was weak and could barely walk. They performed many procedures to find out the source: a colonoscopy, an endoscopy, a fat pad biopsy, blood tests galore and was told to finally admit me at a hospital.

But I tripped on the hospital steps on the way in, due to the walking problem, and fell flat on my face. I bled on the walk and needed 7 stitches. They kept me there for 3 days feeding me intravenously with something called Albumin. I gained some of my strength back for a while, but after the drip ran out, I was weak again.

Albumin is normally made in your blood from dietary protein. It prevents the water in your hemoglobin from leaking out. I was the talk of the hospital. A bariatric vegan. Unbelievable! In fact, one hematologist did not believe it. She was convinced I had amyloidosis, a rare blood disease.

But after 3 exhaustive tests, it was determined I did not have a blood disease. But she was scolding me, nonetheless. I had just turned 65 then and wanted to continue this little life's dream of retirement in Thailand. I had worked hard for it. I deserved it. It was the culmination of 20 years of visits here. She exclaimed "suppose you actually had this disease, Mark, you would need constant care. What would you do then? Huh? Huh? Huh?"

My life today in Thailand

The diagnosis was Hypoalbuminemia due to protein-calorie malnutrition. Today, I wear compression socks (see picture above), exercise regularly, and eat as much protein-dense food as my little stomach will allow.

As a diabetic, treatment is ongoing with insulin and oral medication, exercise and diet. Funny, I used to choke on the word “Paleo."

Sugar is a menace.

It is addictive and damaging and can be found in almost everything. As a diabetic however, doctors have recommended it as a remedy for low blood sugar. I use insulin, which exacerbates the problem by making the blood sugar go too low with too much activity during the day. To survive the sudden lows, an endocrinologist recommended dextrose.

Diabetics in the US have access to over-the-counter medicine that isn't available here in Thailand.  Specifically, these are known as glucose tablets. The difference between real food and glucose tablets is that one tablet will raise my blood sugar 10 units for 1 hour, exactly.

When I am out and about, the tablets are measurable as dispensed and it always works. The glucose tablets buy me extra time to find something like a salad or at the worst, a hamburger if you take off the bun.

If you think all this sounds complicated, that's because it is. But I am used to it. I have to buy bottles of glucose tablets in the States and haul it back in luggage with other things that make dealing with diabetes easier, such as blood glucose test strips.

Pure sugar also raises an ugly specter with bariatric patients. Ingested sugar provokes "dumping syndrome," and it is not a pleasant experience.

Food needs to maintain blood sugar. A prudent Paleo diet does this. It works best with nuts and fruit. Generally, I have found that for me, nuts and also meat maintain blood sugar; some fruits raise it according to their glycemic values.

‣ My favorite vegetable: tomatoes.

‣ Favorite meat: beef.

‣ Favorite nut: cashew.

The label "organic" is a misnomer. It is a marketing term in Thailand. The only truth to that label is when it says "USDA Organic." I try to implement the "clean fifteen" rule, but you will not find an organic strawberry, fresh or frozen, anywhere in Thailand, unless you have grown it yourself.

This fruit remains my favorite with blueberries and cherries. I am not able to make any merit in any organic vicinity here, unfortunately. Breakfast can be eggs and bacon or Adrignola granola.

Lunch is a piece of fruit and a blueberry-almond muffin. I make gluten-free ravioli but can’t make zucchini zoodles the way Robbie can. I wish I could make dairy free-yogurt, but there are problems with that. I like slow-cooked chicken soup, and a Robbie meal will last me for 2 or 3 days.

Exercise is no problem at all. I do 45 minutes on an exercise bicycle. Though at age 68, I will not be an athlete or bodybuilder any time soon. This works for me. It will be difficult to describe moods and feelings now as opposed to before, because they are masked by diabetes and the gastric bypass.

I’m not sure anyone will be able to identify with what’s going on. All I know is the signals in my brain do not talk to the stomach in ways they used to. Food is truly medicine or vice versa, and as such, I now tend to treat it that way, with few exceptions. I can attribute my success at recovery to my loving sister, who is a dedicated Paleo technician and actually heads up the vascular department at an acclaimed university hospital in the town where I was raised.

She gave me a book to read, "It Starts With Food" by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. It opened my eyes. Paleo requires a lot of cooking, but that's what it takes. My mood these days is more in tune with reality. Far less delusional than the veganism I used to be a part of. I can't save animals. I am sorry. They are not pets. You can't change people's diets with threats of climate change due to cow farts now when 60 million bison used to roam the Great Plains way back then.

I feel more energetic and alive these days. I am calmer, less stressed. Happier than in my working days for certain, and glad to finally be on the road to healthy fulfillment. The are some bad days, when I lose track of time and neglect the normal nurturing that healthy eating provides. There is less diabetic neuropathy and gastric anomalies than there were before. But it is slow and gradual. Also mostly more emotional than physical.

However, I have since been told that "success is the progressive realization of your goal.” Amen to that.

Mark Adrignola 

I hope you enjoyed reading Mark's journey and if you have a success story of your own, I would love to hear from you! Please send me or my brother Erik an email as your story can help to inspire others. You can reach us on Facebook or email at [email protected]

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