Heart of the Valley: Mission man discusses living with diabetes

By: Bella Michaels

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A 74-year-old Mission native said  he’s learning something new every day about his journey with diabetes.

“I'm still learning what it is that I can and cannot eat,” Sam Olivarez said.

Olivarez, a Type 1 diabetic, said his journey started 16 years ago when he was diagnosed with pancreatitis.

He underwent surgery to remove his pancreas and lost the ability to make insulin, making him diabetic.

Olivarez spends nearly his entire day plugged into a machine that pumps insulin — the hormone that converts sugar into energy — through a small plastic tube.

Dr. Marcel Twahirwa, DHR Health medical director of diabetes endocrinology, said insulin plays a big role in a diabetes diagnosis.

Diabetes occurs when your blood sugar is too high. Type 1 diabetes develops when the pancreas does not make insulin.


The most common form of diabetes is Type 2, when the cells in your body don't use insulin properly.

For many people in the Rio Grande Valley, diabetes can be prevented by eating healthy and exercising.

For people like Olivarez who live with diabetes, lifestyle changes are necessary.

“Once you have diabetes, at least in my case, I was vastly restricted from sugars,” Olivarez said. “I'm still learning what I can and cannot eat. Like rice makes my blood sugar jump."

For diabetics, it's important to avoid fried foods, excess salt and sugary food and drinks.

Experts recommend eating grains and high-protein foods, and at least two to three cups of fruits and vegetables every day.

According to DHR Health, 60% of the population in the Valley has diabetes — or pre-diabetes.

“Some of the people that I’ve met have had diabetes for 40 or 50 years, and it was like 30 years before they found out they had diabetes,” Olivarez said.

That's why it's important to get checked regularly, and make healthy lifestyle choices.

Watch the video above for the full story. 

HEB and South Texas Health Systems are offering free diabetes screenings in the month of April. Visit our Heart of the Valley page to view our calendar for times and dates where the screenings will be available.


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