Local woman: Tai chi saved my life

Tammy Owens is convinced that tai chi has saved her life — or at least her kidneys.

She said that she was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 35 years old after her first heart attack.

“They told me then to start watching what I ate,” she said, admitting that she is a food addict. “But I ignored that advice.”

Six years later, however, she did quit smoking, but only because she came down with a lot of infections after a quadruple by-pass and spent some time in a coma.

“You get to miss the withdrawals when you’re in a coma,” she said.

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It still took a while for her to get the message, however, that she needed to take better care of her health.

Even a series of eight surgeries in one year forced her to take disability from her job as an investigator for Children’s Services didn’t do it.

“It’s ridiculous how many times I was in and out of the hospital,” she said. “A lot of it was caused by the diabetes.

“It affects everything, can give you gum disease and problems with the thyroid,” she said. “I didn’t understand it, but kept asking why all this stuff was happening.”

Finally, four years ago, when three of her prescriptions started interacting with each other, she started to come around. But not quite.

“I had to call my mom because I couldn’t stand up,” she said. “My kidneys were shutting down because the reaction to the medicine was causing some of my muscles to fail. Next would have been my heart.”

Even though she was told that her kidneys were only functioning at about 40 percent, “I just went on living my life, taking care of everyone else but me.”

Owens kept going to the doctor, who told her in November that her kidneys were at 28 percent. Two months later at 18 percent.

“They started talking about dialysis and put me on a transplant list,” she said, and so she started going to see a transplant surgeon and by this time was taking 12 different medications.

“I’m terrified now,” she said, “but I needed it. I started putting the focus on me.”

She wanted to join a gym, but couldn’t afford it. Then she saw where Partners in Prime was making their gym available for $30 a year, something she could afford.

She joined in May, but it took her a couple of months to find the groove, which came when she discovered the Tai Chi for Diabetes class, taught by Wellness Coordinator Julie McCarthy.

Owens stopped making excuses, stopped letting other people get in the way, she said, and scheduled work-outs five days a week and tai chi twice a week. And started doing tai chi at home when she felt stress coming on, which in the past would have just made her eat more.

McCarthy said that the Tai Chi for Diabetes is one of several programs created by Australian doctor Paul Lam.

“It promotes circulation, especially to the pancreas and spleen,” she said.

“It’s not just ‘cloud hands,’ but feeling the energy moving through you and feeling the blood flow through the body,” Owens said.

McCarthy said that she didn’t know anything about Owens’ health situation, but saw how quickly she picked up on it and started giving her additional videos to work on at home.

Within a few months, the exercise — along with a more moderate diet and cutting out a lot of processed foods that helped her drop 25 pounds — made enough of a difference that her kidney functions improved enough that they took Owens off of the transplant list and the threat of dialysis is no longer looming large.

“My doctor said it was rare to rebound like this,” she said. “I attribute it all to tai chi and working out, and finally getting hammered in the head hard enough to know that if I don’t take care of myself, no one else is going to do it.”

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