For Jane Ann, Director of Advising and Recruiting for Purdue University’s College of Education, March 29, 2017 was a sweet day of success. Here she was at Indianapolis airport, headed to Los Angeles to appear on a national television show, “The Doctors,” where her success in treating her diabetes was going to be celebrated for millions to see. It marked the culmination of months of learning and hope as she changed her eating habits to reflect the ketogenic lifestyle being studied in the Virta clinical trials at Indiana University Arnett Health. Jane Ann had been chosen to star on the “The Doctors,” which is an Emmy-award winning daytime talk show, because after about a year and a half in the scientific study, she was a model of positive results: she had reversed her type 2 diabetes and her weight was down by 80 pounds. Not just that, but the 61-year-old glowed with newfound wellbeing and happiness. As she waited at the airport gate, she felt the full satisfaction of her accomplishments and her good fortune.
But it was about to get a little sweeter.
As Jane Ann received her boarding pass, her heart sank reflexively: she was assigned a middle seat. Now, nobody likes the center seat, but when you weigh almost 300 pounds like Jane Ann used to, it’s a nightmare, she explains. It’s not fitting between the armrests, not being able to buckle the seatbelt or lower the tray or even see the ground. “People used to see me coming down the airplane aisle, and I could see on their faces, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s sitting with us,’” she recalls.
“Going to LA was the first time I’d flown since starting Virta,” says Jane Ann. “I saw my boarding pass, and it was just a habit, I cringed! I walked down that airplane aisle, and the people in seats A and C were there already. But, you know, they looked up and saw me, and they were just like, ‘Welcome!’”
“And so I sat down. I could fit between the armrests, I could see the floor, I didn’t have to ask for a seat belt extender…. It was pretty amazing.”
In hindsight, LA and the taping of the show seems a blur of bright lights and cameras and being the center of attention, which, ironically, are the things Jane Ann avoided for years. “I always tried to stay out of the picture, or just pop my head in, in between other people’s bodies. So I walked out on stage with all the lights and cameras and my brain just stopped! I didn’t register anything that was going on during the show, and then the host turned to me and said, “Jane Ann, how are you doing?” And I just said, ‘I’m doing absolutely fabulous.’ And that was pretty much it. I thought I hadn’t done a very good job!” It wasn’t until seeing the fully-produced show, televised weeks later, and receiving accolades from friends and family, that Jane Ann recognized it as a success and one more accomplishment in the journey that began with joining Virta.
For Jane Ann, Virta came at just the right time. For 15 years her health had gone downhill while her weight crept upward as she juggled with the life of a divorced working mother of two. Her physician told her she was morbidly obese and her diabetes was out of control, and he urged her to start taking insulin and other medications.
Jane Ann balked: “Have you seen the side effects of insulin?! You can write that prescription, but I don’t think I’ll fill it,” she recalls saying. “He said, ‘So you would rather have a stroke, lose a limb, go blind or be on dialysis.’ And I said, ‘….no…..’ That does make you stop and think. I was at a crossroads, and I was ready,” Jane Ann says.
Jane Ann explains that the key to the treatment’s ability to turn her health around has been its focus on patient education. Virta teaches its concepts in a personalized way that makes information directly relevant and memorable, as well as teaching on demand, so patients can learn at a speed that helps them most. The plan encompasses learning sessions online, by phone and live local events. “The educational component changes how you understand the disease. I don’t think I really understood type 2 diabetes before. Now I know, gosh, I can control the blood sugar spiking by my food choices, not medicine.”
The second key to success for Jane Ann has been the sustainability of this new way of eating.
“I don’t feel like I’m dieting,” she says. “People in my group meetings often say, ‘Food no longer controls me,’ and it’s true: I can watch someone eat the corner of a piece of cake with icing, but I don’t want it because I’m not hungry and I know I can go back home and eat a slice of bacon or some cheese.”
People still ask Jane Ann, who has always had a sweet tooth, how she can stand not eating candy and bread and cake. “I know, answers Jane Ann, “that if I go back to eating the way I did, my health problems will all return. So I prefer to give those sweets up and get back the quality of life. Imagine after all of the years of being unhealthy, in a little over one year on Virta, I can bend down and put on my socks and shoes and then tie my shoes. I can walk up a flight of stairs without stopping to rest. I can go to any restaurant and sit in a booth! I have high energy. I’m not sleepy after a meal. I can walk fast. My legs and ankles are not swollen. I am not soaked with sweat when I walk across campus for a meeting. Virta is allowing me to return to a quality of life that I haven’t experienced in years. This has put me back on track to where I was in my 20s and 30s.”
“I didn’t expect to transform at this age,” says Jane Ann. “Being in the clinical trial and following Virta definitely has changed my life.”