‘Little miracle’ comes after diabetic’s journey toward health

When Archana Acosta was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, her reaction was a mix of disbelief and denial. Basically, it all added up to inaction.

“I did nothing about it for about four years,” the Pearland resident admitted.

Acosta did start taking medication — but as far as changing her diet or exercising, she put both on the back burner.

She now recognizes that her action ended up holding her back.

“I thought, I can figure this out, I can do this,” Acosta said.

Dr. Kerry Hinks, a family medicine specialist with UT Physicians in Missouri City, recommended she see an endocrinologist.

Acosta thanked Hinks for the referral but told the doctor via email she simply needed time to manage her weight herself.

Dr. Hincks responded in 30 seconds,” Acosta said. “She basically explained that I didn’t have a choice. My health was really bad, and I needed to see someone.”

And Acosta had another reason to push forward.

“I want to lose weight, get my diabetes under control, and I want to have a baby,” she told Dr. Neel L. Shah, an endocrinologist with UT Physicians and UTHealth Houston, on her first visit with him.

“He was like, ‘We can do it,’” Acosta recalled.

She had found her biggest cheerleader — and, with his help, she was ready to go after her goals.

Searching for help

As a teen, Acosta was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which meant her ovaries were enlarged and surrounded by small cysts. The syndrome can cause weight gain, acne, unwanted hair growth and infertility.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome can also cause women to become insulin resistant, increasing their risk for later developing diabetes. And that’s what happened with Acosta. She was 29 when she was finally diagnosed in 2015.

At that point, she had been married for about five years and wanted to start a family. “But it just wasn’t happening,” she said.

Two years later, at age 32, Acosta saw a fertility doctor, who prescribed medication to help with ovulating. A pregnancy, however, ended in miscarriage after five weeks.

It took time to overcome the loss, Acosta said. About two years later, she was at HEB and noticed a sign next door for UTPhysicians. And that’s how she found herself at Hinks’ office — and eventually with Shah.

Both helped her find a path forward, Acosta said.

Meeting Dr. Shah

“She was apprehensive,” Shah said.

Acosta had gained a lot of weight. At her maximum, she weighed 200 pounds on her 5-foot frame. Her blood sugar was high.

Shah said his patient “dropped a bombshell” when she said she wanted to get pregnant.

First things first, he explained.

“Let’s pause the pregnancy until we get your blood sugar and weight under control,” Shah said. Then, he said,“we went to work and came up with a comprehensive plan.”

Acosta was convinced from the get-go that Shah was going to help her.

“That was what was missing with my other physicians,” she said. “They were diagnosing and treating, but they weren’t really educating.”

Shah showed her how to lower her carb intake and gave her targets for her diet. Acosta also met with Cynthia Lew, a certified diabetes educator with UT Physicians, for nutrition planning.

Shah changed the dosage of Acosta’s prescription and added a second one. He also helped her incorporate exercise into her weekly routine. She now averages a 20-minute walk on the treadmill.

“He told me, ‘Do what you can do to begin with and then add to it,'” Acosta said.

“My weight started falling off,” she said. “What I was doing was making a difference.”

Reaching a milestone

Shah celebrated with Acosta after about a year. Her diabetes was under control, and she’d dropped about 40 pounds. She was even able to eliminate one of her prescriptions.

Diabetes can be challenging to manage during pregnancy — and can have implications for the health of both mother and child, Shah said.

Since Acosta had improved her diabetes management, he gave her the go-ahead to try pregnancy again.

Acosta discovered she was pregnant in October 2020 — and did not need the help of a fertility specialist this time around.

Shah continued to monitor her blood sugar regularly during all three terms. “If we can manage diabetes, it will reduce complications,” he said.

Acosta’s baby was born May 27, 2021.

When Acosta and her husband, Anthony, look at their now 9-month old daughter, they are still in awe. “She’s really like a little miracle,” Acosta said. “She really is.”

Her experience has taught her the importance of taking a diabetes diagnosis seriously — and having a management plan in place.

“Seek medical attention, that’s my biggest takeaway,” Acosta said. “I felt like if I could get my head in the game, I could do it without a doctor’s support. But I couldn’t. That’s the thing.”

“Get a doctor who believes in you — and run with it,” she added.

Shah advises others struggling with diabetes or trying to lose weight to seek professional help. There are multiple factors that could be at play, including genetic and hormonal ones.

“Don’t be afraid to come in and see your doctor,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of starting that conversation. The only way to get through something like this is taking that first step.”

The first visit a patient makes is a victory, Shah said.

“We start from there — and move forward.”

Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.

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