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"I'm lowering my risk ... You can too."

Fellowship Story Showcase

"I'm lowering my risk ... You can too."

Picture of Kate Long

In late January, the Charleston Gazette will run the first installments of Kate Long's examination of West Virginia's high chronic disease numbers. Meanwhile, for a three-page New Year's Day layout, Long photographed and interviewed 56 West Virginians who are lowering their risk of chronic disease and challenging other West Virginians to do the same.  
Her 1A teaser story and intro appear below. The 56 mini-profiles appear here as a slide show. 

West Virginia Gazette
Saturday, December 31, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Connie Dooley, 60, climbs the hill behind her family house, she passes through her family cemetery and scrambles to the top of the hill where, as a girl, she ate apples from the family trees and sat thinking, looking out over Lincoln County.

"My grandfather worked to pay off this place," she said last week. "He bought it with his labor. I want to live a long, healthy life right here."

A year ago, knowing her family history of diabetes, the retired Lincoln County teacher got a blood test at a health fair. "I looked at that paper with my high cholesterol, weight and blood pressure numbers, and it hit me that I was killing myself, putting myself at risk.

"It hit me that I have a choice about that. I thought: 'I'm smarter than this, aren't I? I don't have to be this way.'"

She started walking every day, exercising with friends. She joined Weight Watchers "and I stopped eating without thinking. I didn't do anything expensive or complicated. I just made up my mind and stuck to it."

Nine months later, she's off most of her blood pressure medication. Her triglycerides, glucose and cholesterol have dropped into normal range. She's no longer at diabetic risk, and she's lost more than 40 pounds.

"I'm just an ordinary person, and I didn't do anything dramatic, but I do think I've added years onto my life," she said.

"A lot of other West Virginians are doing the same thing," she said. "If enough of us do it, we can change this state."

I'm lowering my risk ... you can too!

Angela Gould, 34, Charleston. About three times a week, I push my babies over the bridge, up the Carriage Trail and back. I work at home, a computer job, so I try to find ways to stay active and keep these guys with me. My mother has diabetes and heart disease, so I want to lower my risk and be around for a long time. Tip: Exercise first thing in the morning. Get it out of the way.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yes, West Virginia leads the nation in diabetes and heart disease, but -- as Karen Thaxton, wellness director for the city of Charleston, said -- "We don't have to stay there."

Want to get in shape in 2012? Lower that blood pressure or cholesterol? Have more energy every day? Chase away depression? Prevent heart problems and diabetes?

Here are a bunch of your fellow West Virginians -- ages 6 months to 83 -- saying, "Go for it!"

"Exercise regularly and you lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, asthma, cancers -- all kinds of things you don't want," said Sam Zizzi, professor of sports and exercise psychology at West Virginia University.

Even 30 minutes a day, research shows, lowers your risk. "It doesn't have to be in a gym. Walk, swim, climb the hill or stairs, anything that gets your heart rate up," he said.

"No matter how many of your relatives have type 2 diabetes, you can absolutely prevent it," agreed Gina Wood, manager of the state diabetes prevention program.

"Maybe we can bring West Virginia's bad numbers down, one person at a time," said Charleston novelist Denise Giardina, who started swimming after she had a stroke. "Make it happen, one by one, two by two."

Click here for a slideshow of related photos at the Gazette website.