Richard’s story: Living with diabetes and taking control

Posted by Geraint Martin on 4 December 2014 |

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Geraint Martin

One of the driving forces behind the work we are doing at CM Health is around supporting and empowering people to better manage their long-term conditions at home. Conditions like diabetes where we have approximately 34000 living with diabetes in South Auckland.

Richard Cooper, SME (Self Management Education) Diabetes Facilitator for Maaori Health was diagnosed with Type2 diabetes 12 years ago and has gone from managing his own condition to helping other Maaori men and their whaanau to do the same. This is Richard’s story.


My journey starts 12 years ago when I applied for Life Insurance. This meant I had to undergo a medical examination by my family doctor, which included blood tests. After the results came back I was told I had Type 2 diabetes. It’s hard to react to something you know nothing about and for a long time I didn’t do anything to manage my condition – in fact I thought, or rather hoped it would just go away. What I didn’t realise at the time was how diabetes was affecting my health. For example I was constantly tired and sleepy, had to get up several times during the night to go to the toilet, I would sweat when it was a cold day, become quite moody and had numbness in my feet.

About 8 years ago I was persuaded by a good friend to go back to my doctor to get a check-up. It was at this stage that I began to understand my condition in a way that made sense to me. As a result I began taking better care of myself, which included taking my medications and controlling my eating.

Every month I would attend a support group at the Manukau SuperClinic. It was great to talk to other Maaori men, who were in the same situation as me and to share our challenges and solutions. I’m quite competitive and would try to get better results than everyone else. This sense of achievement helped to keep me motivated.

It was also around this time I started working as a SME Diabetes Facilitator for Maaori Health. This meant shaking up my ideas. For example how could I inspire others to make changes when I was 188kgs and not looking after myself? It was also good timing because I was part of the ‘Let’s Beat Diabetes’ Campaign. The people I met at group sessions and in their homes, with their whaanau had a profound effect on me making me try harder to manage my diabetes.

Once I had my sugars under control, lost some weight and was managing my health a lot better I was in a better position to help others, starting with educating people about nutrition.

Every month I would cook different types of meals for the various groups we had at the marae’s around the Counties Region. Rather than say “you can’t eat that,” I would show them different options and help them make better choices on how they could cook and how much to eat.

It was a common comment that vegetables were too expensive, so we spent a year growing veggie gardens. People grew vegetables in buckets, car tyres and gardens. The groups were then keen to try some exercise. So I listed all of their ideas and organised activities like fishing trips, camps, cultural events, top town and traditional maaori games. Recently we took 10 teams of 3 that competed in the Iron Maori ¼ Triathlon which included a 1km swim, 10km run and 45km bike ride. They trained for months leading up to the event. They set goals and overcame challenges – it was a huge lift to their confidence once they crossed the finish line. We also had over 100 people compete in the Iron Pasifika event at Long Bay. The participants were mainly diabetics, morbid obese, bariatric surgery patients and whaanau supporting whaanau. It’s been great to see the positive changes taking place – not only for their health, but their self- esteem and confidence.

Having been through it myself I know what these men and their whaanau are going through – I have walked in their shoes and know how hard it is to transition from knowing what to do to actually doing it.

Thinking back it’s been an interesting journey. The other day I was asked what would have made a difference when I was first diagnosed with diabetes. I guess one of the key things would be to receive information in a way I could understand and relate to. Support groups made a difference, along with involving whaanau in helping to manage my health. One key lesson is what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, so it’s important to take the time to listen and ask the right questions.

If you would like to get in touch with Richard or would like to know more about the work he is doing you can reach him at richard.cooper@middlemore.co.nz

I also recommend watching the video below, which shows what can be achieved when you start to take control of your health and of your life

Geraint and Richard