We know that a lot of people have been very anxious about Type 2 diabetes and COVID-19. That’s why we’ve been sharing stories of diabetes survivors of COVID-19 – to show that it’s possible to recover fully. One very public figure who has recovered from COVID-19 with Type 2 diabetes is Premier Alan Winde, the Premier of the Western Cape.
We asked him to share his experiences of Type 2 diabetes and COVID-19 with us. Watch the interview here, or read the highlights below.
How long have you had Type 2 diabetes?
I was first diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 12 and a half years ago. I went for my normal medical and the doctor said my sugar was a bit high – when I went back for a fasting glucose test, my doctor told me I had Type 2 diabetes. I knew about it because my grandfather was diabetic and lost a leg because of diabetes. I understood what it meant, so I had a bit of an anxious time.
My wife and I decided to do some research. What really triggered it was that I was given three pieces of paper with different diets, and they all contradicted each other. I started measuring my blood sugar every hour, I started a spreadsheet – finding out what my body did if I ate a slice of brown bread or basmati rice or a spoon of sugar. I could see how my body reacted to different kinds of food.
How do you treat your diabetes?
I was initially on glucophage (Metformin) but after I changed my diet and lost weight, I was able to reduce my dose. When I got COVID-19, I went back onto glucophage.
I’ll tell you what I did use was the FreeStyle Libre and it was amazing. You can see what your blood sugar is doing, your doctor gets a print-out, you’ve got one and you know you’ve got this thing under control. What we’ve got to do now is make sure they become freely accessible and available to all.
Did you have to change your diet and lifestyle when you were diagnosed with diabetes?
When I realised that what I do now is going to help me in the future, I started exercising and I started eating properly. It was probably the lack of exercise and not eating properly that was the trigger for my diabetes. I used to wake up too late, not eat breakfast, work too hard and forget lunch, and then on my way home in the evening, I’d grab something from the shop, have supper and snack for the rest of the evening. And so the cycle would begin again.
When I was diagnosed, I lost 18kg and started riding my bicycle and eating differently: low GI, low GL. I started dropping how much medication I needed – just eating differently and exercise were managing my blood sugar. I’d changed my lifestyle and my whole family changed their lifestyle, because we all eat together.
But of course the other thing that affects blood sugar is stress. And then a few years later came this job as the Premier – and COVID-19.
When did you test COVID positive and what were your symptoms?
Knowing I was diabetic, I knew I was at risk. I had flu symptoms, so I quarantined myself and went for the test – that’s when I found out I had COVID-19.
It was very interesting, as soon as I said to the medical team that I had Type 2 diabetes, there was a new level of interaction. At that stage in the Western Cape, the co-morbidity that had claimed the most lives was diabetes. It was interesting for me to be at the other end of the treatment and advice. It was good to see the immediate extra focus.
How did you look after yourself?
By that stage, the infection was in my chest – it was pneumonia. I asked my doctor if I could treat it at home, and he said I could. I had high fevers and headaches, and my blood sugar started going haywire – it was very high. I was put back on glucophage immediately and took normal flu stuff to treat COVID-19.
Usually when I get sick, it’s a day or two. This was two weeks of feeling awful and five weeks to get to the point of not coughing every day.
My big lesson was: you have to treat it more seriously than you think.
“Let’s keep safe, keep the curve flat. And let’s deal today with what we can deal with to protect tomorrow.”Premier Alan Winde
What message do you have for other diabetic South Africans?
If you know that your blood sugar is not under control, go and speak to your healthcare provider and let them help you manage your blood sugar better. We know that controlled blood sugar drops your risk of serious COVID-19 tremendously.
Try to manage diabetes as best you can, change your lifestyle if you need to. Whatever you do today will help you in the future. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
What makes your life sweet?
My wife, my family and my bicycle!