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Pastor Mireya Martinez and Orval Rhoads, before service at Pattison United Methodist Church on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 in Pattison. 
Pastor Mireya Martinez talks with parishioners before service at Pattison United Methodist Church on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 in Pattison. 
Pastor Mireya Martinez speaks during mass at Pattison United Methodist Church on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 in Pattison. 
Pastor Mireya Martinez speaks during mass at Pattison United Methodist Church on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 in Pattison. 
Pastor Mireya Martinez speaks during mass at Pattison United Methodist Church on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 in Pattison. 
Pastor Mireya Martinez at Pattison United Methodist Church speaks to the children before they head off to Sunday school on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 in Pattison. 
Pastor Mireya Martinez chats with Orval Rhoads, before service at Pattison United Methodist Church on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 in Pattison. 
Rev. E Mireya Martinez was leading worship at Pattison United Methodist Church in March when she heard the telltale alarm of a continuous glucose monitor over everyone singing.
Martinez has had Type 2 diabetes for 20 years, and a check confirmed her blood sugar level was normal. She realized the alarm had to be for Orval Rhoads, a 77-year-old parishioner with the same condition.
She spotted Rhoads’ wife, Diane, frantically digging through her purse. Martinez kept staring, willing her to look up.
“Finally, she looked over at me,” Martinez said. “I did a thumbs-up, and then I did a thumbs-down. And she motioned thumbs-down.”
Pattison is a city of fewer than 500 residents, and the nearest urgent care is a 20-minute drive from the church. Fortunately, Martinez was ready to spring into action.
The pastor grabbed a candy bar and a juice box from her pulpit where she keeps an emergency stash of sugary items for such an occasion. She took them to the Rhoads’ seats at the back of the church, and Diane Rhoads helped her husband consume a juice box to bring his blood sugar level back to normal. The rest of the church sand obliviously throughout the ordeal, Martinez said.
Rhoads was dazed when it all happened; he didn’t realize Martinez had provided the juice box until later that night. He texted her to say thank you for saving his life.
“I’m very fortunate that I had someone nearby who understood my condition,” he wrote.
Experiences like the one Rhoads had in church are familiar to many of the 37 million Americans living with diabetes. The chronic health condition requires constant monitoring — often by a blood sugar meter or continuous glucose monitor — to ensure blood sugar levels aren’t too high or too low. Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, has many causes including missing a meal; exercising more than normal; and drinking alcohol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You never know when your sugar is going to drop on you,” Rhoads said. “You will get very weak, and maybe even [be] in danger of passing out.”
For someone like Martinez, who has an irregular schedule, having diabetes can mean planning ahead and considering whether she needs to eat something to maintain her blood sugar level.
Low blood sugar can be treated via the “15-15” rule, which involves having 15 grams of carbohydrate and re-checking the blood sugar level after 15 minutes. If the blood sugar is still too low, the process is repeated. Eating a candy bar, drinking a juice box or taking a glucose tablet might bring the blood sugar level back to normal, but the experience can leave someone with diabetes feeling poorly for a full day, Martinez said.
“It takes my body a good 24 hours before it fully resets itself,” she said. “Then I’m in a brain fog and I’m lethargic. And it’s really hard to just force myself to push through to get through the rest of my day.”
Martinez is outspoken about her diagnosis; she informs parishioners that she has Type 2 diabetes every time she’s appointed to a new congregation. That’s partly for safety, so others will know how to help if her blood sugar level drops.
But she also believes it’s important to talk about her condition to raise awareness, especially because she is Mexican American. Overall, 11.3 percent of U.S. adults had diabetes in 2019. But the numbers were higher for Hispanic (11.8 percent), Black (12.1 percent) and Native American (14.5 percent) adults, according to the American Diabetes Association. Martinez has a family history of diabetes; it’s also been diagnosed in both her parents, several aunts and uncles and several grandparents.
Diabetes is especially prevalent in Hispanic communities in the Houston area and across Texas, said Dr. Rocio Harbison, an endocrinologist with the Advanced Endocrinology and Diabetes Clinic in Houston. That is due to a range of factors including genetics; socioeconomic factors like food insecurity; and even the weather. Houston’s summers are so hot that many people don’t get enough exercise outdoors; when they do go outside, it’s often for activities that involve food, such as going to a restaurant or bar, she said.
For Latinos, adjusting to living with diabetes or prediabetes can be difficult, Harbison said. Foods like rice, beans and tortillas are a traditional part of many Latino diets, but they’re also high in carbohydrates.
“Sometimes people feel like ‘Well, if I do all these things and make all these changes, then what am I left with? Of my heritage and of my culture?’” Harbison said. “And it is [important] for us clinicians to see that when we’re addressing not only the Hispanic population, but all of our different ethnic groups.”
Harbison recognizes that changing a diet is difficult, so she doesn’t forbid people from eating the foods they love. Instead, she asks if they would be willing to compromise and reduce the frequency they eat those foods, or the size of their portions. Instead of tacos with beans, potatoes and eggs in the morning, she suggests tacos with eggs and sausage, and leaving the refried beans until lunch or dinner.
“There’s always an option for you so you don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself from all the things that you love,” Harbison said.
Having a family history, being overweight and being physically active fewer than three times a week are risk factors for diabetes, so Harbison recommends her patients try to lose 3 to 5 percent of their body fat and exercise at least 150 minutes per week. That exercise can be something as simple as walking.
Harbison said raising awareness of diabetes is important, because there’s still a lot of stigma associated with the condition. That can make someone wary of seeking treatment, because they don’t want others to see them taking medication or wearing a continuous glucose monitor. That’s a problem because if it’s left untreated, diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and other issues, Harbison said.
That’s why Martinez feels it’s important to talk about her diabetes with her congregation. She and Rhoads bonded over their shared diagnosis when at Pattison United Methodist Church in July 2020, and his wife knew to look to Martinez for help when his blood sugar level dropped back in March.
That knowledge also helped Diane Rhoads know what to do when his blood sugar level dropped again during worship in early October. This time she didn’t wait for Martinez to come help; she just walked to the front of the church.
Martinez was out of juice boxes, so she grabbed a coffee cup and filled it with communion wine (which is just grape juice). After that incident, Diane Rhoads began keeping glucose tablets in her purse.
To Martinez, the fact that Diane Rhoads knew who to turn to for help is a testament to why she works to raise awareness about diabetes.
“I really do believe that sharing our stories with each other makes us all better,” she said. “It makes us all stronger.”
Evan MacDonald is a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle, covering health and wellness for ReNew Houston.
He joined the Chronicle in 2022 after working at and The Plain Dealer, where he covered health. He’s also worked for news organizations in New York and Massachusetts.
A Boston native, Evan graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College and a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He enjoys trivia and movies and is a fan of all Boston sports teams, for which he apologizes in advance.
He can be reached on Twitter at @evanmac3 or via email at
In support of informed voting, the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board interviewed candidates in more than 60 races to make the following recommendations in contested Harris County races.
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