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Wendy Angelo: an “amazing journey”

In 2010, Wendy Angelo had trouble walking even just a few blocks. At 63, she was overweight and endured painful osteoarthritis in her knees. Then came a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. “I sat in the doctor’s office and thought, oh no, not another chronic disease!”

People with pre-diabetes have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. They often go on to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Angelo knew how serious the diagnosis could be. An aunt had died in her 60s from complications of diabetes. “I figured I had to do something,” Angelo says.

That “something” was Toronto Rehab’s research-based Diabetes, Exercise and Healthy Lifestyle program. Over six months, it transformed the retired schoolteacher into an avid exerciser who now walks 20 kilometers a week with ease.

Angelo had always avoided exercise because of her knee pain. Toronto Rehab staff carefully drafted her ‘exercise prescription,’ a personalized program that began with slow walking. Walking once a week in class and four times a week on her own, she increased first her distance and then her speed. As her leg muscles strengthened and she lost weight, the knee pain subsided.

Next came the resistance training. For the first time in her life, she started regularly lifting weights. Exercise leaders adapted the exercises as needed to protect Angelo’s knees, getting down on the floor beside her to show proper technique.

“The personal interaction was key. Going to class every Monday, I felt so revitalized,” Angelo enthuses. She and her classmates had the benefit of a program informed by rigorous research. They also had the support of a whole healthcare team that included a dietitian, psychologist and doctor who gave education sessions on everything from diet to stress management and glucometers.

Partway through the program, Angelo’s sister suffered a heart attack, a painful motivator to keep exercising.

Another, sweeter motivation was her son’s impending wedding. “She really wanted to look great for that wedding,” says Angelo’s case manager, cardiac rehab supervisor Diane Nixon. “And she did!”

Angelo dropped 20 pounds on the program and the compliments flowed on wedding day. Her energy levels and sleep have improved and, most important, her blood glucose levels have dropped enough that she does not require medication.

“I kept to the rules and I saw the results,” she says proudly. “It’s very empowering.”

On the last day of class, Angelo handed Diane Nixon a thank you card. “It was an amazing journey”, she wrote, “and a wonderful opportunity to take a part in my own care”.