A Couple Manages Their Diabetes Together
Diabetes brought Marie Schlosser and Bill Gertz together, and made them a powerful team
In honor of Diabetes Forecast magazine’s 70th anniversary, we’re profiling people whose lives have been touched by diabetes—and who have touched the diabetes community.
Over the past 70 years, people with diabetes have lived through many changes, from new insulins to home glucose meters, insulin pumps, and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). But for many people with diabetes, the biggest life-changing event is connecting with someone who shares their condition. Just ask Marie Schlosser and Bill Gertz.
In 2010, Schlosser was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Though she had lived with type 2 diabetes for over a decade, her move from Colorado to Arizona the year before, and her search for a new doctor and support network, threw her diabetes management out of whack. “I was having problems finding a good doctor,” she says. “And I didn’t know anyone [with diabetes].”
After a bout of serious low blood glucose (hypoglycemia)—her sister-in-law found her passed out on her kitchen floor and called 911—Schlosser worried about her diabetes regimen. She contacted her local endocrinologist. “She said, ‘Let your primary care physician help you out,’ ” Schlosser recalls. “Then she hung up the phone.”
Hence the horrible day.
She stood outside her house, fuming at her doctor and swearing like a sailor. And that’s when she met Bill Gertz.
Her next-door neighbor was no stranger to diabetes. He’d been living with type 2 for 18 years when he met Schlosser and learned about the issue with her endocrinologist. “He took me right into the house and said, ‘I’m going to call my doctor, and we’re going to get you set up with him,’ ” Schlosser says. The next day, she spent an hour and a half with Gertz’s doctor.
From there, a friendship between Schlosser and Gertz blossomed.
Just My Type
Their experiences with type 2 diabetes were far from similar. Schlosser had a family history of diabetes and almost 40 years of experience as a nurse when she was diagnosed two decades ago. “I called a friend at my first job, who at that point was an internal medicine doctor, and she helped me get regulated,” says Schlosser, now 71.
Gertz didn’t have any family or friends with diabetes. He was diagnosed 18 years ago, after a heart attack at age 49. “In the ER, the doctor asked how long I’d had diabetes,” he remembers. “I said, ‘I guess since now.’ ”
He found it difficult to talk about diabetes with his family because they didn’t share his experiences. “You go somewhere, and they want to have a piece of pie,” says Gertz, 67. “They had no clue what diabetes was. I had to educate them as well as myself.” Schlosser was one of the first people he met who understood what his life was like.
Despite their different backgrounds, they bonded over their shared condition. Schlosser also shared her experiences riding in the Tour de Cure®, the fundraising bike ride sponsored by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). A lifelong bicyclist, she got involved with the Denver Tour de Cure shortly after she was diagnosed. Her goal then was twofold: use her cycling hobby to raise money for the ADA, and use the exercise to help manage her diabetes. Gertz hadn’t ridden a bicycle in years, but he decided to ride with her in the Phoenix Tour de Cure. “We bought a bike and got him set with helmets and shorts and gloves,” says Schlosser. “Then we started riding.”
Soon after, they started dating, too.
Married to the Cause
Over the next few years, as they constantly appeared together at meetings, classes, and Tour rides, their friends in the diabetes community made some assumptions. “We were at every event, and everybody always thought we were married,” Gertz says. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we get married?’ ”
He decided to make his proposal during a Tour de Cure rider recognition event in 2016. He contacted the ADA’s Phoenix office to get on the speaker’s list. “I know a lot of people think we’re married, but I’m going to put an end to that,” he said to the packed room—and Schlosser. And then he brought out the ring.
“There were 70 people in there, and the crowd absolutely went berserk,” says Schlosser. She enthusiastically accepted Gertz’s proposal, and the two were married within months.
A Healthy Partnership
Schlosser and Gertz have seen many changes throughout their lives with diabetes. They’ve lost weight by following updated recommendations for healthy eating, and Schlosser was able to bring her A1C down to 6.4 percent using a new oral diabetes medication. But both see their chance meeting as the biggest change in their diabetes management. “If you have somebody who’s just as knowledgeable as you about what you should be doing, you can work together,” says Schlosser.
Before the two met, Gertz had trouble committing to lifestyle changes. “I had a good doctor, but I wasn’t keeping the weight off,” he says. Exercising with someone who understood his struggles with diabetes made all the difference. “When I met Marie, it all changed,” he says. In addition to going on regular bicycle rides, the couple joined a weekly “walking aerobics” program. Not only did he lose 40 pounds, but his A1C also dropped.
Living with diabetes, Gertz and Schlosser learned that you need more than medicine and a good diet to stay healthy. “You need someone to help you: your family members, your spouse, your support group,” Gertz says.
Today, people with diabetes can connect with and help each other in more ways than ever—at diabetes management courses, at events such as the Tour de Cure, or in online communities. Schlosser and Gertz haven’t always found it easy to live with diabetes, but they realized that it was easier, and more rewarding, to manage it together.