Eyeing a new insulin pump, Victor Baronian looks forward to the day when he won't have to poke himself with a needle four times a day to keep his health in check.
Slender and active, the former Harveys Casino dealer discovered he had Type 1 diabetes three years ago after it became difficult to read the winnings.
"A guy hit a jackpot and I tried to read what it paid on the wall, and (my vision) was blurry," said Baronian.
His vision problems continued, along with frequent urination that wouldn't subside.
A simple test found his blood sugar was more than 400. The normal level is about 100. Baronian has endured seven to 10 hypoglycemic attacks a week.
"When they told me, I believed them," said Baronian, whose grandmother had diabetes.
With Type 1 diabetes, the body's pancreas fails to make insulin. This type only affects about 10 percent of diabetes cases. Treatment requires regular insulin shots or a pump, blood sugar monitoring, exercise and a balanced diet.
With Type 2, medication may replace the shots or pump.
"You almost have to become a nutritionist," Baronian said.
Diet is the hardest part of the disease, said Daniel D'amicol, who has Type 2 diabetes.
Now he reads the labels of all the food he buys, keeping his intake to 5 grams of fat or less.
"The only thing I really miss are Snickers," D'amicol said.
Diabetes affects an estimated 14 million Americans, but it's especially hard on Native Americans and Hispanics.
Many nutritionists agree the American diet of fast food has contributed to the high prevalence of diabetes. Some medical professionals have pointed out that the diet most Native Americans ate during the hunting and gathering days was much healthier.
"We never know the true numbers of what's out there, but we can take samples and give predictions," Barton Director of Nutritional Services Laura Dick said.
Dick cites the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest large-scale effort to urge fast-food chains like McDonald's and Wendy's to serve less-caloric choices because of the high rate of obesity that correlates with increased cases of diabetes.
Inroads have been made lately. A gene that appears directly linked to human obesity has been identified.
The mortality rate associated with diabetes has risen 27 percent in the last two decades, making it the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. It claims more than 182,000 lives a year.
The metabolic disease isn't the killer as much as the complications caused from it. Many cases of heart attacks, strokes, limb amputations and blindness may be caused by it, health care professionals state.
Ophthalmologists estimate that up to one-fifth of their cases of blindness may be traced back to diabetes, with only half of the population segment receiving eye care.
"Half the people find out too late," Dr. Paul Burton said.
More than 8,000 people in the U.S. become blind from retinopathy.
"These are very unfortunate numbers, and they don't have to be," he said.
Clinicians have realized high blood sugar damages the capillaries of the eyes.
He suggests patients need to be re-evaluated every two to four months.