Nateeba Massey

Nateeba Massey, Member, Flint: Better Health Together

Six years ago, Nateeba didn’t know much about diabetes, and she certainly wasn’t aware that she might have been able to prevent or delay its onset with a healthier lifestyle. Today, Nateeba is one of the 25.8 million people in the United States affected by diabetes. Diabetes is part of Nateeba’s everyday life, but she doesn’t let it control her. Rather, Nateeba controls her diabetes to help prevent other health complications, live a quality life, and help to bring awareness to the Flint community.  

Before she was diagnosed, Nateeba went to the doctor’s office for a regular check-up, and left with a diagnosis of diabetes. Since she was unable to recognize the symptoms and was not familiar with how to prevent diabetes, she had no idea that she was at risk.

“My blood sugar had never been high,” says Nateeba. “Some signs I was having without knowing it were dry mouth, thirst, and excessive tiredness.”

Nateeba says that it was hard making an adjustment in her life to cope with her diabetes, because she was unaware of how to manage it and was having trouble getting information.

“All I was thinking is ‘I have diabetes, I can’t have sugar,’ but no one was telling me anything. Once I got educated, I started making changes,” says Nateeba.

Diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. Diabetes can lead to serious complications such as kidney failure, lower limb amputations, blindness, heart disease, stroke, and even premature death. However, people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications. About 25% of Flint and Genesee county residents are impacted by diabetes every day as a caregiver, support person, medical assistant, or an individual living with diabetes.

Nateeba began her new lifestyle by making small changes to benefit her overall health. She says that she believes taking one step at a time is the key to effectively managing diabetes.

“For me, it was not about changing everything at once,” explains Nateeba. “I started having sugar-free drinks. I also started trying new recipes, which I’ve found really helpful in trying to eat healthy.”

For others, Nateeba says that small steps to control diabetes are essential for improving your health.

“If you’re pre-diabetic or feel that you aren’t healthy and want to change your diet, it’s important to do one step at a time. For example, go from whole milk to 2% milk,” Nateeba suggests. “At the grocery store, try diet options to wean yourself off of unhealthy options. Go from fatter ground beef, to a leaner option. That’s what I did. Eventually, now I can do all of the healthier options and they taste good to me.”

In addition to managing her diabetes, Nateeba has used her new lifestyle to support the Flint community through the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan’s Flint: Better Health Together (FBHT) coalition. As a member of the FBHT coalition, Nateeba hopes to help reduce the unequal impact of diabetes in the community.

As with diabetes management, Nateeba explains that doing something to have a lasting impression on the community has to start small as well.

“It’s important to start small and bring awareness to other people in the community,” says Nateeba. “A lot of people want to do something but just don’t know that the resources are out there.”

Nateeba believes that working in the community is important for impacting people who have been diagnosed with diabetes, those at risk, and specifically, future generations. She talks about small policy change and how it’s often about the environment in which people are raised, which allows them to adopt unhealthy lifestyles.

“My parents didn’t know about portion control or what kinds of things I was eating. That little stuff there is what adds up,” Nateeba explains. “I really want to touch younger people. Helping people adopt healthy habits is what we need to do.”

In the last six years, Nateeba has made her diabetes a part of her life, rather than her entire life. Although living with diabetes presents challenges, Nateeba views her diabetes optimistically—as an opportunity to improve her health and help others that are facing similar issues.

“I manage diabetes because I want to live and enjoy life,” Nateeba says. With her positive outlook, she helps to educate Flint residents about diabetes management and healthy lifestyle choices.

This program is fully funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.