How I Control My Diabetes So It Doesn’t Control My Life

Anthony Wilson shares his story

This article is part of Health Divide: Type 2 Diabetes in People of Color, a destination in our Health Divide series.

Anthony Wilson

Photo Courtesy of Anthony Wilson / Designed by Zoe Hansen

Meet the Author

Anthony Wilson has been an EMS professional for 34 years. He is the current operations manager of an ambulance service and national ambassador for Know Diabetes by Heart. Anthony adds his voice to the landmark collaboration between American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association to educate people like him about the link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease and stroke. 

I am sweet tea’s number one fan, french fries too. Or at least I was until my health made my lifestyle and food preferences a matter of life and death. 

My wife and I were a few months into a health streak—exercising, eating better, and prioritizing our well-being—when I woke up one morning to my wife looking at me and saying, “We’re going to the hospital.” I pushed a bit but ultimately acquiesced. My next two memories are of me walking down the steps toward the car and later waking up in the ICU. I only know what happened during those first moments at the hospital because of what my wife and healthcare providers told me.

My blood pressure was incredibly low, my heart was working overtime, my blood glucose was at 1098, my A1C was at 17.3, and a few other organs had begun to fail. After the healthcare providers worked to stabilize me, one of them told my wife, “Mrs. Wilson, you know if you would have gone to work as normal that morning, your husband probably wouldn’t have made it.” 

Even in thinking back on this story, I’m stunned that it’s my story, but I also feel deeply that I need to tell it to help someone else hopefully avoid the same fate.

What My Medical History Was Telling Me That I Missed

Before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in October 2012, I only knew I suffered from supraventricular tachycardia, a fast heart rate. I didn’t have a history of prediabetes or any other related diseases.

As an EMT of 34 years, I prided myself in being self-aware to know all the ways that I was healthy and all the ways I knew I was falling short. Team Wilson (what my wife and I call our family) had fitness goals because I knew at the time that I was overweight and wanted to work on leading a healthier life. Switching up my fitness routine and diet led to immense changes—I lost maybe 60 pounds in two months—but what I saw as positive shifts turned out to be my biggest red flags.

In addition to losing weight, I was constantly thirsty, craving the most random drinks (like mango juice), and always needing to stop for pee breaks. On a six-hour road trip, I stopped once every hour to use the bathroom. Looking back, I now know these aren’t normal occurrences, but it was hard to see that at the time and without the proper health context.

Anthony Wilson

I knew I could manage my diagnosis, but I also wanted to live without depending on insulin.

— Anthony Wilson

That week-long stay in the hospital changed my life. Before discharge, my healthcare provider said I would need to live on insulin for the rest of my life. I knew I could manage my diagnosis, but I also wanted to live without depending on insulin. 

And I’m not on insulin anymore since 2015, and no oral medication since 2020, but getting there taught me more than I could have imagined.

Life Post-Diagnosis

Having a career in the medical space was my upper hand when navigating my diagnosis; I feel privileged to have had it.

It helped me understand what I needed from my medical support system, but I still had more trouble finding the right healthcare providers than I would have expected. After my diagnosis, I would visit a primary care physician to monitor my levels, and after a few consecutive visits, I could see how my A1C levels kept increasing. I prodded—”Hey Doctor, I noticed my A1C levels are going up; I want to explore that more.”

She responded, “Mr. Wilson, you’re a diabetic, and that’s normal for a diabetic.”

That was the last time I saw her.

I knew that getting to a point where my diabetes would be properly controlled meant that I couldn’t be afraid to advocate for myself or for what I knew was right for my health. After her, I found a new primary care physician who listened to and reacted to my concerns, an endocrinologist I trusted, and a nutritionist who helped guide me.

Anthony Wilson

I try to openly share my story, particularly amidst fellow communities of color, because I know there’s an information gap.

— Anthony Wilson

Together with my team of medical experts, I’ve been able to lose weight steadily, manage my diabetes without medication, and have enough energy to help mentor and support those on their diabetic journey. I try to openly share my story, particularly amidst fellow communities of color, because I know there’s an information gap and a trust gap between healthcare providers and us or the knowledge on how to manage our health effectively.

I’ve found such support in organizations like the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and as an ambassador for our American Heart Association’s Know Diabetes by Heart (KDBH) initiative. I think combining these larger organizations and first-hand accounts can help take someone from fear of their next steps to feel empowered in taking them.

What Giving Back Looks Like

Team Wilson is deeply involved with the American Diabetes Association, and I’m proud of the information gaps we can fill as a result.

One recent example I can think of actually happened outside of the context of volunteering. I was at a work event when one of my coworkers opened up about their recent diabetes diagnosis. It’d been two months since her diagnosis, and they still felt like they did on Day One. I peppered her with questions and resources: Have you found an endocrinologist? Have you checked out Diabetes Food Hub for recipes? Did you know about ADA? Then I told her more about my journey from the initial diagnosis to now.

In those few moments we shared, she said she’d learned more than she had in the past two months from her healthcare providers. We all have the opportunity to help someone cross that information gap, and sometimes it doesn’t take more than saying, “Let me tell you what I know.”