Like so many residents of the South Carolina Lowcountry, Mrs. Thelma Harney speaks in the soft, musical tones of the Gullah dialect and culture. But her message of health comes across loud and clear, for her friends and neighbors in the coastal community of McClellanville and beyond.

     Mrs. Harney, 82, has lived with diabetes for 40 years. For most of those four decades, she controlled the disease with diet and exercise. Only recently, she began taking pills to control her blood sugar level. And yes, she still gardens, meets with her senior group, attends church, goes to Eastern Star meetings, does community work and makes traditional African strip quilts. She worked into her 80s at the local crab-processing plant. It closed before she retired.

“I have never missed a doctor’s appointment, Nor have I ever spent any time in the hospital.”

     A born storyteller, Mrs. Harney’s enthusiasm and passion for life are contagious. No matter the topic, she has a way of making things “day clear.” She shares her life’s experiences so willingly that listeners feel they lived them with her.

     As a young person, Mrs. Harney moved to Charleston to work and attend school. There she married and began a family before returning to McClellanville to raise her children. She eventually returned to school and earned a high school diploma in the 1970s. She passed her love of learning on to her children and grandchildren.

     “They had a program down at the Center and I went,” she says. “I have encouraged my children and grandchildren to get their education, to keep going, and they have. My oldest worked for the school system until she retired. One daughter and my son worked with me at the (crab-processing) plant. They all had to work to help out.”

     When her granddaughter developed Type 1 diabetes while attending the University of South Carolina, Mrs. Harney stepped in to help out.

     “I said, ‘Send her to me. I’ll get her well,’“ Mrs. Harney recalls. “She takes the needle, but she also watches her food and exercise. She’s doing better now, and she graduated.”

     Mrs. Harney knows that diabetes can be controlled because she has done it for 40 years. She currently takes one pill a day to control her glucose levels and stays active. She encourages people to watch what they eat, listen to the doctor and practice good common sense.

     In Mrs. Harney’s case, that’s a prescription for a long, rich and rewarding life.

To learn more:

See the Diabetes section in South Carolina’s Biggest Health Problems for more information about diabetes.

Diet and Exercise Dramatically Delay Type 2 Diabetes
(HHS News, US Department of Health and Human Services)
Research study shows Diet and Exercise Dramatically Delay Type 2 Diabetes.
http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/aug2001/niddk-08.htm
Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging
(National Institute on Aging)
http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-physical-activity/introd
uction
Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging
(National Institute on Aging)
http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-physical-activity/introd
uction
What I need to know about Eating and Diabetes
(National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse-US National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases-NIDDK)
On this page find out how what you eat can affect your diabetes.
http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/eating_ez/index.aspx
REACH 2010: Charleston and Georgetown Diabetes Coalition
(The Diabetes Initiative of South Carolina)
This is the Web site of a community based diabetes coalition of more than 28 organizations. African Americans are more often diagnosed with diabetes and suffer more complications from diabetes than white Americans. The Coalition’s mission is to eliminate these health disparities in South Carolina. It offers diabetes education and helps people build skills to better manage their diabetes. On their site you can find diabetes educational material, a schedule of classes and events, and contact information.
http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/reach/

Written by: Barbara Carlson, M.L.S.
Last Modified: Monday June 16, 2008 12:18 PM