Oneita Whitfield

Oneita Whitfield, Member of DCAD

At 68 years old, Detroit resident Oneita Whitfield considers herself very healthy. She exercises three times a week at the Brightmoor Community Center, eats healthy and watches her portions, and strives to become educated on healthy lifestyles to make sure she’s on the right path. Oneita began the healthy lifestyle that she maintains today, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and learning of the related health risks that come with uncontrolled diabetes.

Nearly 130,000 residents are living with diabetes in Wayne County. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, causing over 40% of all cases, and it is four times more likely to cause kidney failure in African Americans than in Caucasians. In addition to kidney failure, unmanaged diabetes can lead to other serious complications such as blindness, limb amputation, heart attack and stroke. Luckily, people with diabetes can lower the occurrence of these complications by controlling blood glucose, blood pressure, and blood lipids.

Diabetes runs in Oneita’s family. Since people with a family history of type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for developing it, Oneita visited a doctor every 6 months to make sure she was properly managing her health to avoid type 2 diabetes. About 15 years ago, Oneita noticed she was constantly thirsty no matter how much she drank, so she went in for a checkup in between routine visits.

Despite visiting the doctor regularly, Oneita learned that she had developed type 2 diabetes. She explains that although she was relatively healthy before being diagnosed with diabetes, she had to change her lifestyle by carefully monitoring and planning her meals, exercising more regularly, and taking control of her diabetes to prevent other health complications.

“For me, I could not eat just three meals a day, but three meals a day with two snacks in between meals,” explains Oneita, in regard to managing her disease. “I always make sure I have something in my car to snack on, and I definitely avoid certain foods such as canned foods because of the sodium. I do what I need to do to make sure my blood sugars stay level.”

Eating healthy and planning meals was only a small component of learning how to control her diabetes. In addition to learning what to eat, Oneita also learned about how much to eat.

“I learned about portions and what size portions are good for people with diabetes,” says Oneita. “If everyone were to eat like they were diabetic they would be healthy.”

Being from a large, supportive family, the lifestyle adjustments were relatively manageable for Oneita.  

“I come from a very large family so they have been very supportive as far as making sure I am eating correctly,” says Oneita. “Everyone knows of some of the foods I have to steer away from.”

Oneita explains that part of her success with managing diabetes was learning to recognize the warning signs of when her blood sugar is high or low. She explains that knowing your body is critical to properly managing diabetes.

“Once you find out your diabetic, you have to start studying your body and find out what you need to be compliant,” says Oneita. “You have to know for yourself what you eat and what time you eat at to be in touch with everything that’s going on with your body in case of high or low blood sugar. Everyone has different signs when they get high or low.”

Furthermore, Oneita emphasizes that part of being in control of your diabetes and the way you’re feeling is keeping others informed of how they can help, especially your loved ones.

“I let people know right away I’m diabetic,” says Oneita. “I have met people who told me they didn’t tell their family about their diabetes, and I explained to them that it’s important to make sure your family is involved. Let people know the signs for when you’re feeling a little funny.”

Through Oneita’s own diagnosis and her enthusiasm for helping others, she has become involved in the community in many ways. Oneita participates in the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan’s (NKFM) Detroit Community Against Diabetes (DCAD) coalition, a community coalition that strives to promote health equity in Detroit through policy making, environmental changes, community awareness, and action by developing resources through strategic collaboration. The coalition meets monthly to help in eliminating diabetes-related health disparities in African American adults in Northwest Detroit. She also participates in the NKFM’s Enhance Fitness program at Brightmoor Community Center, and has been attending regularly for years.

Aside from her passion for improving the health of Detroit residents, Oneita dedicates her time to a book club, neighborhood safety group, and her church, Hartford Baptist Memorial Church. Through all of her connections to the community, she always focuses on encouraging healthy lifestyles among the different people she meets.

For people who have been diagnosed with diabetes and other health complications, Oneita says that a positive attitude is important in health management.
“I’ve noticed that most people seem to think its Doomsday when they find out they have diabetes,” says Oneita. “You have to stay positive and active.”
Learning to manage diabetes can be a challenging adjustment for many people, but it’s worth it. By learning to manage your diabetes, make healthy lifestyle choices, and involve your family and loved ones in your care, you can lower your risk of possible complications.

For information and helpful resources as well as classes and workshops to help manage diabetes, visit the NKFM's diabetes information page. You can also access great resources for diabetes management and prevention from the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) at www.YourDiabetesInfo.org.