“I didn’t have a standard kid’s life,” says Fiona Moratalla, who grew up in Venezuela. “I never had sleepovers. I couldn’t play sports because exercise made my blood sugar suddenly drop. If I became suddenly very sad or upset, I could lose consciousness.”
These startling and drastic physical symptoms had a cause: Fiona was diagnosed with diabetes in 1964, when she was almost 3. Her family went to a succession of doctors, but diabetes care was rudimentary at the time.
“I remember overhearing the doctor tell my parents, ‘Well, frankly, you can expect Fiona to have 20 years of decent life, and then it’s all going to be downhill from there,” says Fiona. She was just 12 years old at the time.
Fernando: Learning to Cope as an Adult
Fiona’s husband, Fernando, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes thirteen years ago, at 47. But he’d been living with diabetes for a lot longer. When Fiona and Fernando first started dating, her parents made sure that Fernando was familiar with the issues that people with diabetes face, such as how to recognize swings in blood sugar.
Fiona still regrets not recognizing, early on, the signs that Fernando was sick. “Finally, I said to him: let me test your blood sugar,” she remembers. “It was over 500, so we went into the doctor as soon as we could.”
Fernando has kept his blood sugar relatively stable over the past 13 years, but dieting is a struggle. “He’s very passionate about carbohydrates,” says Fiona. “If it were up to him, he would have his cup of tea with a gazillion cookies and cakes. He’s had to learn to cut back.”
A Little Healthy Competition
For the past three years, Fiona and Fernando have visited Lorena Alarcon-Casas Wright, M.D., an endocrinologist at UW Medical Center, every three months. Under her care, the Moratallas have managed to keep control of their blood sugar levels.
“I’m now on an insulin pump, which has improved my lifestyle dramatically,” says Fiona. “Fernando is treated with insulin at meals. His blood sugar is probably even better than mine.”
Fiona is tracking the numbers; in fact, the couple are a little competitive about their blood sugar levels. They even compete when it comes to vegetables. “Sometimes we see who can eat less of this or more of that — like salad and vegetables,” says Fiona. “Before me, the only vegetable that Fernando ate was cauliflower.”
Proving Them Wrong
Fiona attributes the couple’s health, in part, to the care they’ve received at UW Medicine. “I love Dr. Wright. She’s always asking us about how we’ve been feeling and how our lives are going,” says Fiona.
And their lives are going pretty well. Fernando has only had two blood sugar drops since his diagnosis, and Fiona has managed to avoid diabetes-related health problems — problems with eyesight, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease — to name a few.
When she thinks about that terrible afternoon in the doctor’s office when she was 12, Fiona actually feels grateful.
“I think I needed to hear what he said,” she says. “It pushed me forward. I had to prove everyone wrong.”