Local man gains new lease on life

Diabetes diagnosis urges lifestyle change for himself, family

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 4, 2015

 Ramirez indulges in some cake in 1997, five years before he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Ramirez indulges in some cake in 1997, five years before he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Photo submitted by Marc Ramirez

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Marc Ramirez was living the dream, playing football at the University of Michigan while dating his future wife, Kim.

A bulky offensive lineman, he had the talent to perform well on the gridiron. The problem, however, was not his skills on the field; rather, it was battling genetics.

He came from a family of eight children, and all but one sister was diagnosed with diabetes. After weighing 305 pounds during his football heyday, that weight didn’t sustain itself after his graduation in 1990.

“I was pretty active and pretty healthy, but after college was done and football was done, I also was starting to get sick and develop Type 2 diabetes,” said Ramirez, who is of Mexican heritage.

Diabetes is prevalent in those of Mexican descent, and his family was almost a case study for how dangerous it can be.

He recalled his mother undergoing treatment for her own diabetes throughout his whole life, be it pills or dialysis. His younger brother, now 43 years old, was diagnosed at the age of 13. After experiencing pancreas and kidney transplants, he had his right leg amputated in 2011 and is legally blind. He takes 25 different medications every day.

Then, it was Marc’s turn. He was diagnosed in 2002 — the same year his mother died — and tried to keep it at bay by exercising and eating better.

“I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was going down the same road as my mother and brother,” he said.

Those methods didn’t work, though, and he began taking medication in 2004. It started with one pill, and as his conditions got worse, he was up to five different medications by 2011. He also developed high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

Marc was tired of the pain and all the medication, and Kim was scared of her husband’s prognosis. After attempts to cut carbs, watch sugar intake and increase exercise didn’t work, something turned both of their lives around.

On Dec. 3, 2011, Marc and Kim watched “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary that explores what changes a body goes through to battle diseases when a plant-based diet is taken seriously. They were both inspired by how nutrition affects the human body, as well as how different foods can cause chronic illnesses.

The family, including daughter Marissa, 21, and son Mark, 18, began to eat beans, chickpeas, legumes, lentils, brown rice, pasta, quinoa, fruits, vegetables and nuts. They basically switched their entire diets cold-turkey and educated themselves by reading books and learning about labels at grocery stores.

Kim said they didn’t, and still don’t, pay more for groceries. They just have to shop more for fresh produce. Even the kids copied their parents’ changes and grew to enjoy them.

The results were instantaneous. After about eight years of steady medication, Marc waved goodbye to his last pill on Jan. 30, 2012. He has remained medication-free for more than three years now.

And although Kim was never diagnosed with any form of illness, she lost some weight herself and has felt more energetic in recent years. She said she wonders why Marc’s doctor never introduced a different eating style in the first place, but that’s all in the past now.

“It was kind of sad, and I thought (about) what our future held,” Kim said. “Maybe his kidney would fail and he would ask a family member for a kidney donation. I thought, we’ll do the best we can and hope for the best. That wasn’t a happy thing to think that was our future.

“I feel so good. When we saw Marc’s sugar start to drop, that encouraged us to keep going. It made us happier because we were in control and felt empowered and wouldn’t go back to eating the other way.”

Kim, 46, said she feels better now than she did at 36. Marc is 47 and feels better and looks thinner than he did 10 years ago. His psoriasis is gone, he hasn’t had heartburn in three years, his energy levels are up, he no longer has to prick his finger, and he has saved thousands of dollars in medical costs.

In addition to being medication-free, Marc now weighs 210 pounds — the same amount he weighed back in seventh grade.

Now, Marc and Kim are devoting their time to help others.

They created a website called www.chickpeaandbean.com to help give others tips, as well as a forum to engage with one another.

In 2014, they also started a plant-based nutrition support group that they are bringing to Clinton Township. They will speak at the Clinton-Macomb Public Library’s Main Branch about lessons they learned from literature, such as Dr. Neil Barnard’s book about reversing diabetes, as well as have guest speakers that include doctors, nurses, medical students and others.

The groups are open to anyone, especially those who want to learn more about heart disease, diabetes, cancer, blood pressure and cholesterol. The group will also discuss how and why diseases occur and how they can be prevented, along with subsequent meal plans that may reverse chronic diseases.

“We’re not selling anything. We don’t have books, pills and special oils,” Marc said. “The whole intent is just to get people to understand that extreme diets and surgeries don’t work.

“You can change your course and your future. We are hoping that we have altered or changed our family’s history. Before, we were just a bunch of sick people. Hopefully, we can get things moving forward.”

The next meeting is 6-8 p.m. March 16 at the library. The guest speaker will be Dr. Kerrie Saunders, who will discuss diet as disease prevention. She will also provide bioelectrical impedance analysis for the first 20 individuals. Visit Marc and Kim’s website for more details.

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