By: Brenda Neugent
Deborah Grona hadn’t danced with her husband in more than four years. “We fell in love on the dance floor,” says Grona, who had been unable to dance, or even stand for short periods of time, since developing the chronic pain that comes with diabetic neuropathy.
Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1998, Grona was initially somewhat inattentive to her disease. “My mother was dying, and living in my house, so I was putting all of my problems on the back burner,” she says. “I was not surprised to find that I had diabetes. I’d very likely had it long before my diagnosis.” She points to a family history of diabetes, along with her Hispanic heritage and a traditional diet, as part of the reason she developed diabetes.
Grona’s inability to dance, an activity that she and her husband had loved so much, was one of consequences of diabetes that she most regretted. Soon she found herself battling depression, especially after becoming virtually dependent on her husband, Ron, for most of the household maintenance, including cooking, cleaning, and the work related to their at-home medical transcription business.
“Diabetes completely changed my life,” says Grona, who began taking insulin several years after her diagnosis but still couldn’t control the neuropathy. As circulation slowed to her legs and feet and her nerves became more damaged, the pain and tingling increased and she faced an elevated risk of amputation.
Despite increased dosages of pain medication, including Darvocet and later, hydrocodone, Grona was unable to maintain a normal lifestyle. “It only took the edge off,” she says of the drugs. She couldn’t even sleep through the night because as soon as her sleep medication wore off, she would snap awake from the pain in her legs and feet. “Doctors would ask me to describe my pain level as a number from one to 10,” she says. “To me, it was the distance between the earth and the moon.”
The exhaustion from lack of restful sleep, combined with chronic pain, was completely debilitating. Grona struggled with daily tasks like standing to take a shower. Dreams of dancing again with the man she loved seemed out of reach. “Dancing, walking with my family…I was completely unable to do the things I loved to do before,” she says. “I became a hermit. And my husband became my legs and feet.”
Grona struggled with her increased despondence and tried hard to keep her anguish from most of the people in her life. “I hid it,” she says. “My husband knew, my daughter knew, but I put on a happy face for everyone else, especially clients. I never wanted to let them know.”
Grona considered a nerve-blocking spinal injection, but her endocrinologist questioned the success rate and the risks, expressing enough skepticism that Grona held off on the procedure. Finally, her doctor prescribed Metanx, a “medical food” supplement that includes high levels of B vitamins and folate. The medication was slow to show results for Grona, but she kept taking it after her endocrinologist advised her to be patient. It wasn’t until she ran out of the prescription that she realized what a difference it was making.
Within a year of her introduction to Metanx, Grona had complete relief from her neuropathy symptoms. “I can feel my toes, I can feel my ingrown toenail,” she says, her smile evident in her voice.She is no longer dependent on pain medication, a big plus to her bank account since she and her husband are both self-employed, and she is dancing again after several years on the sidelines. “We’ve been dancing quite a bit,” says Grona, who relishes the return of a life that she feared was lost forever. “You never realize how life-altering chronic pain can be until it happens to you,” she adds. “It changed everything. But Metanx changed it back. I can’t attribute the changes to anything else. I think it will play a huge part in helping people with diabetes.”