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How a Latina With Diabetes Is Changing Her Family’s Story

Photos: Courtesy of American Heart Association/American Diabetes Association

When Lupe Barraza has a goal, very little can stop her.

She didn’t just start running. She ran eight marathons and two ultramarathons — in only 24 months.

She didn’t just get a college degree, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and passed the CPA — in only three years.

She’s the friend you wish you had, and the daughter and mother who would do anything for her family. 

So when Barraza started to pull away from those closest to her and turned away from her healthy lifestyle, including running, it didn’t make sense to those around her. Truth be told, it didn’t make complete sense to her, either.

While at work — an environment where she was still excelling — she’d look at her degrees proudly mounted on the wall and think, “You’re a smart girl. What are you doing? Why won’t you leave?”

Seasons of change

After having four kids, her 18-year marriage to her high school sweetheart dissolved. She lost herself in the divorce and found solace in a childhood friend. They married and had two more children. The new relationship, however, became unstable at best and dangerous at worst. 

Her new husband was both verbally and physically abusive from the beginning. He struggled with substance abuse and had trouble holding down a job. Always trying to keep the peace, Barraza stopped running, neglected her diet, gained almost 80 pounds, and developed type 2 diabetes. When she ate healthy foods, he mocked her and tried to make her feel guilty.

“I had to eat what he made me,” she said. “If I tried to follow a diet, that was insulting to him.”

Barraza’s strongly held core value to stand by her spouse at all costs — which she was even more committed to after her failed first marriage — was costing her greatly.

Barraza asked her husband to leave on more than one occasion, but he refused. One weekend, he physically attacked her in front of their two small children so badly that she went to the hospital and he went to jail. It was about that time when her hands and feet began tingling, often painfully enough to wake her up in the middle of the night — a result of nerve damage from high blood sugar. It hurt so bad she couldn’t squeeze her hands.

“I was not well at all,” Barraza said. “But I didn’t know how to fix it. I had isolated myself from my family and friends and was very alone.”

More than the unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise, Barraza said, stress played a huge part in her unmanaged diabetes.

The wake-up call

Life took another dark turn when her mother had a stroke and her father had a heart attack a few months later. Doctors attributed both medical events to their type 2 diabetes. In fact, several of her father’s 13 siblings had battled diabetes and suffered amputations, strokes, heart disease, or chronic kidney disease as a result.

As a child, Barraza thought that’s how it went for her family: When you grow up, you develop type 2 diabetes, have life-altering complications, and then pass away from them.

As an adult living with diabetes herself, she knew by managing her condition she could prevent these devastating complications and change her family’s story.

As a mom with young kids still at home watching her, depending on her, she knew she had to change her family’s story.

Ultimately, Barraza filed for divorce. On her own with her children for the first time and determined to get healthy, Barraza worked with a doctor who got to know her and helped her formulate a plan that appealed to her likes, her cultural values, and her goal-oriented personality.

Putting herself first

Indeed, when Barraza has a goal, very little can stop her. 

She didn’t just lose some weight — she lost 60 pounds and cut her A1C in half, all during a global pandemic. 

“Getting healthy isn’t always as simple as eating better or exercising more,” Barraza said. “Oftentimes, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves what’s keeping us sick.”

As a national ambassador for the American Heart Association’s and American Diabetes Association’s Know Diabetes by Heart initiative, she is a role model and champion for others — particularly Latinas like herself — sharing her message that they, too, can put themselves first, and their families and communities will be better for it, not worse.

With Barraza’s strong support system firmly back in place, she’s reminding her family and friends of the woman they once knew and feeling good about herself again. 

“When I choose to take care of me, everything else falls into place,” she said.

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