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Great Health Divide | Diabetes in Logan County

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 8:33 PM EST
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LOGAN, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia ranks among the highest in the nation when it comes to diabetes rates.

Every day, something in my life is affected.

Daniel Johnson

Financial barriers and access to critical health care resources in rural areas plays a major role in the statistics.

Daniel Johnson never saw himself as a statistic, but with more than 1 in 10 West Virginia adults living with diabetes, that’s where he finds himself. He was diagnosed in his mid-20s with Type 1 diabetes.

“It changed my life,” Johnson said.

While he had heard of diabetes, he admits he didn’t really know all that went into the disease and what it would mean for him, his family and his lifestyle.

The Mountain State is number two in the nation for the disease. In Logan County, the numbers are even higher. More than 18% of adults over the age of 20 who live there have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Johnson believes he had been living much of his life with untreated diabetes leading to other conditions like foot pain and neuropathy.

“Mostly in my hands, I’m a drummer and I can’t play guitar anymore because I can’t feel my fingers,” he said.

Johnson says he wishes he had been tested sooner. He eventually made the decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery

“From 16 to 20 odd years old, I didn’t need to see a doctor, right?” Johnson said. “I was bulletproof, you know?”

Some groups are working to fight back against the disease and educate residents.

“I think some of that is just infrastructure,” said Dana Wright. “It’s just the fact that things and communities are so far spread apart that people can’t really walk.”

Wright is an assistant professor with the WVU Extension Office in Logan County. She helps lead a bi-annual education clinic called Dining with Diabetes.

“We give them the basics about diabetes, explain some of those terms to them,” Wright said. “Every week, we’re actually teaching them how to eat those healthy and nutritious meals because we’re preparing them and letting them sample the food.”

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78 years old. For Logan County, it’s 70 years old.

“There’s certainly a problem here, and there should be more resources,” Johnson said.

Access to adequate health care in rural areas is a major barrier. Daniel says resources should be better targeted, advertised and suited for those who live there.

“There are clearly more cases of diabetes in this town than people with hearing problems,” Johnson said.

With no local endocrinologist, he’s having to travel more than an hour away to Charleston to meet with a specialist. And while he’s lucky to make it work, many others may consider it a luxury.

“A trip to Huntington or Charleston is an all-day affair,” Johnson said. “Hour or hour and a half there and back. You’ve got food and gas, plus a day off work, it’s a true thing.”

Wright says it’s important to have a good relationship with your medical team and to not let a diagnosis overwhelm you.

“Diabetes is not a death sentence,” he said.

Making simple lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, can help reduce your risk of developing diabetes and subsequent conditions or it can make the disease more manageable.

“Start somewhere,” Wright said. “Don’t try to cover it all at one time. Pick one health habit that you’re going to change and stick with it.”

For those like Daniel who live and work in Logan, it’s something the entire community will have to work on together to combat and overcome.

“This is the problem we have to deal with,” Johnson said. “People are dying. It’s nowhere near the opioid crisis, but it’s still very real.”

Coalfield Health Center also offers diabetes education. The Logan County Day Report Center has a community garden and created a partnership with PRIDE Community Services to provide a farmer’s market. The Logan County Health Department also has a mobile office at the site.

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