Valley Family Strives to ‘Break the Cycle’ Given History of Diabetes

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WESLACO – On average, one out of three people in the Rio Grande Valley has diabetes, but in the case of the Avila family it’s even higher.

The situation is so dire; two family members took drastic measures to fight it.

The Avila family has been struggling with diabetes for more than 20 years. Six out of eight family members have this disease.

Sisters, Maribel Ryan and Celena Hoglund are hoping to change that.

“I knew it was an ugly disease that I didn’t want,” said Ryan.

“Diabetes is so prevalent in our family history – losing family members,” explained Hoglund. “I knew it was going to happen. I knew it was a matter of time.”

They’ve seen how damaging diabetes can be.

“My dad was diabetic, was on dialysis. I have an older sister who’s diabetic also on dialysis,” said Ryan. 

Their mother and brother are also suffering from diabetes. Ryan describes what life is like for her brother who’s also on dialysis.

“His body won’t heal,” she says. “His kidneys are damaged already. It’s sad because he even lost a leg.”

In June 2015, their dad died due to complications with diabetes. The sisters tell CHANNEL 5 NEWS he suffered for years.

“Open heart surgery in his 50s, kidney failure in his 60s, so it’s a horrible disease,” said Hoglund. 

“His heart got weak because of diabetes. He ended up having a heart attack at home,” Ryan said. 

A lifetime of eating the wrong foods and not exercising led to the family’s problems.

“We want to eat sopitas. We want to eat arose, tamales. It’s not good for you, but it tastes so good,” said Ryan. 

The Avila sisters decided to do something about it – change their family’s history.

Nearly six months ago, they got gastric bypass surgery. Just five weeks apart. They tell us the decision wasn’t easy but had to be done.

“My family was my inspiration. Having a brother that’s ill, my sister on dialysis. I didn’t want to go on that path. I needed to change that,” Ryan said.

“Quality of life for my family, diabetes has really had an impact on that,” Hoglund told us. 

Both Ryan and Hoglund have lost 75 pounds each. They say weight loss surgery was worth it. It’s really changed their lives.

“I’m no longer on insulin, I don’t take diabetes medication,” Ryan said. 

“My energy level!” Hoglund said. “Now I can pretty much keep up with people walking.”

They no longer have diabetes, but they admit they still have a long road ahead of them. They have to watch what they eat and exercise regularly.

Hoglund says life now is about choices.

“Incorporating more water, no more sodas, no more sugar drinks,” she said. “Also, staying away from tortillas, staying away from bread.”

The family now plans weekly meals together to make sure they’re all eating healthier. They say it’s important they fight diabetes together.

“Share responsibility with my sister, Maribel, in looking out for my siblings, looking out for my mom. They need us,” Hoglund says. 

That’s the goal passing on new lifestyle changes to their kids and future generations to hopefully one day break the cycle, they said. 

Both sisters tell us weight loss surgery is a very personal decision; one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. They say anyone considering it should talk to their doctor and family.

You’ll need a strong support system to help you through the process.

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