A Conversation with his Manager Helped Save His Life

Jason Gardner was ready to give up on his path to well-being—until he reached out to his supervisor

Jason Gardner was so fearful that he would die in his sleep that he would write goodbye notes to his wife and leave them on his desk in case he didn’t live through the night.

Lying in bed, his heart would race, his legs and feet racked with pain. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes several months earlier, Jason, a father of two young children, was consumed with anxiety about his condition and what it meant for his family. Frustrated by the regimen of medications and daily insulin injections that his doctor prescribed, Jason had stopped taking them. His weight climbed to nearly 300 pounds.

Depression took hold.  

“It was so out of control,” says Jason, a senior analyst in Aetna’s Claims Analytics and Reporting Department.

Two people helped save his life: his wife, and his Aetna supervisor.

His wife did what doctors’ warnings could not: On New Year’s Day 2018, she broke down and—overcome with emotion—told him she was afraid he was going to die and their children would grow up without a father.  It was a breakthrough moment.

“I had never seen my actions affecting someone like that,” Jason recalls. “Once you see it, that’s it.”

Jason’s diabetes diagnosis had come out of nowhere. Several months earlier, he started feeling dizzy while he was driving. His heart started racing and his vision blurred. He made a detour to a walk-in emergency clinic and underwent tests. There was sugar in his urine. He was told to see his primary care doctor immediately.

At the follow-up appointment, his blood sugar level was four times higher than normal. When he heard the diagnosis, he was stunned. No one in his family had diabetes, a disease that affects more than 30 million Americans. The doctor told him he’d be on insulin for the rest of his life.

“I was a ticking time bomb,” he says.

Jason went on insulin and other medications but didn’t modify his carb-laden diet or cut back on processed foods like pizza and burgers. And he didn’t get much exercise. He gained weight and the medical bills were piling up.

But when he saw his wife reach her breaking point, Jason knew he had to turn things around fast. He had a new doctor who agreed to let him stay off the medicine while he tried to lower his blood sugar on his own. After doing extensive research, he adopted a Keto diet, cut soda, sugar and processed foods and started intermittent fasting.

He began working out at the local YMCA, using an hour of paid time off to cover his gym time. But his vacation time would go only so far. At the rate he had to dip into it, he’d run out of vacation time long before he reached his goals.

That’s where his supervisor came in.

Jason decided to ask Kristie Morris, Manager of Business Information Management and Analytics, if he could make up the hour at the end of his workday. He wasn’t optimistic that Kristie would go for it. In fact, he was sort of hoping she didn’t. If she turned him down, that was his out—his excuse to give up.

“I told Kristie, ‘I was really hoping you’d say no, because then I was going to go get a pizza,’” he said.

Kristie, however, surprised him.

When Jason explained his situation, she didn’t hesitate to support his request. It was not only a good business decision, she explained. It was keeping with Aetna’s commitment to the total well-being of its employees—the idea that the company is strongest when our employees are at their healthiest.

“My philosophy for anything that comes up with the people on my team is that I’ve got to figure out a way to support them,” she said. “Fortunately, our team has the flexibility and they are super about supporting each other to get the job done.”

With Kristie’s approval, Jason had no choice but to push himself forward. He hit the gym with a vengeance, sometimes going twice a day. He tracked his blood sugar and blood pressure and kept copious records of everything.

When he returned to the doctor in June, he had dropped 80 pounds and his blood sugar level was normal. Just six months after taking control of his health, he no longer had diabetes.

The changes Jason made have affected other areas of his life, especially his family. He has more energy and is more active with his kids, Norah, 7 and Elias, 5. His wife is eating healthier and is training to become a wellness instructor.

“My outlook is so different. I’m happier and I feel so motivated,” Jason says.

His experience has motivated others, including his co-workers.

“Three other team members have mentioned they have taken up additional exercise,” Kristie says. “I think there’s a ripple effect.”

Jason made it through the holidays without losing his momentum. He knows small indulgences won’t throw him off track.

“I haven’t gone off the rails and I feel confident I never will again,” he says.

What advice does Jason have for people who are struggling to take control of their health?

“You won’t change unless you’re ready to change,” he says. “If I can do it, you can do it.”

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