How Bill Howell Took Control of Type 2 Diabetes

Bill Howell, a member of the Lean Six Sigma Core Team in Milwaukee, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in October 2009. Although his physician speculates he had the condition for a lot longer, the first signs that something was wrong began six weeks earlier.

It started with what he describes as a never-ending thirst. From there, his symptoms expanded to include painful leg cramps, dry mouth, tongue swelling, vision changes, 40-pound weight loss and a partially paralyzed foot. “It came on quick. In about three weeks, I went from reading glasses to needing a magnifying glass to read the computer screen,” he said. “It was nothing debilitating—not like it’s the flu that just knocks you down—but it’s enough to get your attention that things aren’t quite right.”

Recognizing the symptoms, a former coworker cornered Bill at the office to make him test his blood glucose. “My reading was off the meter. It only goes to 600, and I was over 600, when it should be 100ish.” When he confirmed the diagnosis with his doctor, he learned his condition was quite serious. “When you get your blood drawn for a test, it should be in the 3.8 range to 6.8. I came in at 15.3. When I tell health care professionals that I was a 15.3, they stop whatever they are doing and look at me and say ‘were you in the hospital?’”

His Approach

Despite the numbers, Bill never felt sorry for himself. “I didn’t look at this as a disease. I looked it as a project and I would crush it with Six Sigma,” he said. “When you have these symptoms, you can’t walk right and you’re sleeping in one-hour increments because you’re going to the bathroom through the night, you make up your mind pretty fast that you can’t go on like this.”

“You make a plan, document what you’re going to do, record your data, analyze it and watch how the process improves over time,” he explained. His plan of attack included partnering with his physician; establishing a goal statement; drafting a storyboard (a Six Sigma method for documenting projects); and creating templates and charts to track his glucose tests, glucose meter calibrations, medication and food intake. His detailed plan, which is outlined in his e-book I Took Control (available on Yammer), allowed him to notice patterns and determine which factors had the largest impact on his health.

“Fundamentally, this is a function of what you eat,” he said. For the first six months, Bill measured, recorded and charted everything he ate, including the associated calories, fats and carbohydrates. “I used to drink a lot of Mountain Dew and when I got coffee, I’d get a medium coffee with six sugars. But I gave up carbonated beverages, I gave up sugar and did everything else in moderation. That was key to my success.”

His Results

While it seems like a lot of work, he says the payoff was worth it. He reduced his daily glucose average by half in just two weeks. And met his goal level within the month. “That was a special day,” he recalled. By August of the next year, he was off medication. And within six months, his health bounced back. “My eyes returned to normal. My weight is back to normal and I don’t have cramps, swelling of the tongue or the constant need to drink. And my blood sugars run within the normal range for someone who is not diabetic,” he said.

Now, Bill no longer needs to track his food. He’s found a good balance between what he can eat and what he can’t. “I still love donuts and cookies. I just can’t eat them like I used to,” he said, adding that staying motivated is easy. “If you don’t control this, it impacts your kidney, it impacts your liver and it impacts your capillaries, which is why you go blind and why they end up amputating your feet and fingers,” he continued. “As much as I love my cookies, I love my fingers more.” Bill also uses Rockwell Automation resources to stay on track. “I did the health screening, took some cycling classes and used the onsite health clinic to get blood work done.”

Support for Others

Noticing that a lot of people living with diabetes have questions, Bill drafted an e-book to share the approach that worked for him. In October, he started a Rockwell Automation Yammer group, “Diabetes Forum: Be Kind to Your Blood,” where he starts discussions and shares his book. “I hope folks at Rockwell Automation will take advantage of what this forum offers,” he said. “I found it easy to take control and I’m confident that with a little support and inspiration, others can too.”


Take Advantage of Diabetes-Related Resources

If you’re living with diabetes or aiming to prevent it, take advantage of the various resources available to you as a Rockwell Automation employee.

  • Yammer: Join the discussion at “Diabetes Forum: Be Kind to Your Blood.”
  • Health Management program: Complete one of the Take Action activities designed to help you lose weight, get active or eat better (all of which can help you prevent or manage diabetes). Or work with a health coach to reach a specific goal.
  • Value-based prescriptions: Pay 50% less for diabetes medications if you’re enrolled in the Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) option.
  • Workplace Options: Visit (company code: automation) for helpful articles on diabetes, weight management, nutrition and obesity.