Eating 'whatever we could afford' took its painful, inexorable toll

2010-04-11T00:00:00Z Eating 'whatever we could afford' took its painful, inexorable tollStephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 11, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Growing up in a family that lived on a tight budget, Patrick Conrow ate whatever was available.

He became accustomed to canned fruit, beans and orange-yellow blocks of processed government cheese provided by food boxes.

"You'd just eat whatever was there. It was whatever we were able to get and afford," says Conrow, 39. Later, he developed a taste for fast-food meals that were cheap and filling, drank giant-sized sodas to help him stay awake during the night shift at a convenience store and snacked on chips and candy.

The 6-foot-1 former football player ballooned to 365 pounds.

By 34 he was suffering from fatigue and occasional blurred vision. A sore on his left foot wouldn't heal and made it difficult to work.

Turns out Conrow is diabetic. The sore ate into the bone and he lost three toes and part of his foot.

He requires a retinal specialist for his eye problems and suffers foot infections that continue to require medical attention.

He measures his blood sugar with a prick to his finger every time he eats, then calculates how much insulin he needs to inject into his body. The single father's health problems prevent him from working, but he's insured through Medicare because of his disability.

Conrow's father is diabetic, and so were two of his grandparents.

He is trying to protect his pretty, dark-eyed 11-year-old daughter from the same diagnosis.

He and his daughter lived in a south-side apartment complex on a busy street. Because of traffic and crime, Conrow would not let her play outside. They didn't live close enough to his daughter's school for her to walk, and, like most children, she loves television and video games. Earlier this year, school officials voiced concern about her rising weight.

So Conrow has made changes. He and his daughter have moved into a house with his parents. His mother makes home-cooked meals, and the neighborhood is safe for his daughter to play outside.

Conrow remains diligent about buying fresh produce and now weighs under 200 pounds.

"I don't have the mobility to run, stuff like that," Conrow says, pointing to his orthopedic shoe. "I see people in the grocery store filling their carts with chips and soda. ... I want to tell them to eat right and exercise to avoid the kinds of issues I have."

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