The desert that surrounds the Bapchule home of one man who has lived with diabetes for many years is quiet and serene. Nothing punctuates the silence during a September afternoon visit except the occasional barking of the family's two friendly dogs, who nose gently at visitors before flopping in the shade of the palo verde trees near the house.
He talks quietly about the children he and his wife raised, about the house they built with the help of her Tohono O'Odham relatives on the Gila River Indian Reservation, and about how he decided to change his diet for better health.
Both his parents had diabetes. Three brothers died from it. Another brother is on dialysis because of kidney disease. This Pima man remembers being diagnosed with diabetes while still in his twenties. "I didn't really notice it at first," he says softly. "I was young."
Twenty years later, however, he had to take notice. He had developed diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes that affects the nerves and makes wounds slow to heal. His left leg had to be amputated in 1985 because of it.
He had to retire from the farm labor he had done all his life. Eventually, he developed kidney problems. Told that he would have to go on dialysis, he and his wife met with a dietician.
"I just did what she told us," he says simply. "When I had another appointment with the kidney doctor at the hospital, he looked at my chart and said, 'What did you do? You don't need to go on that machine yet,'" he adds with a wide smile.
What he did was just what the dietician told him to do, he says. "I had to give up just about everything I ate, and watch amounts. Everything, everything, was really reduced."
He eats meat, but in small amounts: "Like they told me, put two fingers together, and just that much," he gestures. "Two bites!," he adds, laughing. He learned to fill up on rice and lots of vegetables, and to use other tips from the dietician to control appetite and eat healthier foods.
"The first three months I'd really get hungry between meals, but the dietician told me to just get a snack mid-morning, mid-afternoon--something light, like an apple. I kept on doing that, and now I don't have to. I got used to it," he explains.
He can smile about it because the rewards have been good. He went from weighing 250 pounds to a trim leanness. His blood sugar, which had registered 235 or 250, tested normal--around 90. "Oh, I feel great whenever I just sit back and think about it. It just feels great," he says with satisfaction.
Despite his quiet personality, this is obviously a man who doesn't give up. His wife's help has been essential--she buys all the food, reads all the labels, and does all the cooking.
It was hardest to give up favorite foods like fried bread and beans, he admits, and sometimes he has eaten it when he was "really hungry for it." For those occasions, his wife uses light oil, which reduces the fat.
"I didn't know controlling my diet would really make such a difference, but it sure did," he says finally.