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For the better part of his 20s, Kevin A. Pemberton spent five days a week in the gym and had the six-pack and bulging biceps to prove it. To all who knew him, he was the best example of health. But when a doctor’s visit a year ago revealed that he had Type II diabetes, it completely reshaped his understanding of the disease and who gets it.
“I remember going to the doctor to check my blood pressure,” says the 33-year-old Harvard grad who always maintained regular physicals, “and the sleeve could not get above the elbow.” He laughs as he reminisces about the days when his aggressive workout routine resulted in a bulky physique. Pemberton was working as a corporate compliance associate at Putnam Investments in Boston when he started feeling lethargic, no matter how much he worked out. “I was getting headaches from time to time and I said to my doctor, ‘I just don’t feel well,'” he recalls. He also began experiencing blurry vision in his left eye and was fighting bouts of fatigue. His doctor insisted that he was just working too hard. “They’d say, ‘Look at your lifestyle,'” explains Pemberton, who agreed, thinking his blurry vision might be the result of long hours spent on the computer.
But as he experienced additional symptoms he became concerned. “In one sitting, I ate an entire pizza pie and then I had a liter of Coca-Cola. And I still felt hungry.” He was also constantly thirsty. Then, on a three and a half hour Amtrak ride home from Boston to New York, he got up to urinate at least ten times. Pemberton really began to worry. His urges to use the bathroom had become so persistent, they were interrupting his sleep pattern.
Although a coworker suggested that he was experiencing diabetic symptoms, Pemberton didn’t think someone in good shape could have diabetes. He thought it only plagued the elderly and obese. Nevertheless, he decided to get a doctor’s opinion.
The doctors immediately tested his blood glucose levels with an A1C test-a test that measures blood sugar levels over the past two to three months by measuring the amount of glucose that sticks to red blood cells. His A1C result was over 11 (6.5 and below is healthy) and his glucose level was between 600 and 700 (normal is in the low to mid 100s).
Doctors feared that Pemberton was at risk for falling into a diabetic coma. “They gave me a shot of insulin in my stomach and I felt relieved, head and shoulders above what I’d felt like the [previous] three to four months,” says Pemberton, who spent that night in a hospital emergency room.
“When I was diagnosed, I went to my doctor and [said], ‘I don’t understand, how is this possible? [I thought] you would have to be obese.’ He said that that’s not the case, particularly with Type II diabetes.”
Type II diabetes mellitus is also known as adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. It occurs when the pancreas doesn’t