There's a bag of Fun Size Snickers on the reception counter at his office, a sweet gesture from a parishioner. The Rev. Mike Eckley leaves them for other staff and visitors, though.
Sharing the candy is thoughtful, but for Eckley, it's also a practice in discipline and good health. The priest, who is pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Omaha, has Type 1 diabetes. His pancreas no longer produces insulin, which converts sugar, starches and other foods into energy.
That means turning down many of the treats that inevitably turn up in his office.
“We're to be good stewards of what God gives us,” he said, his hand wrapped around the handle of a 54-ounce water jug. “A lot of people here know that I'm diabetic, so they'll bring things that are healthier.”
Eckley was diagnosed in 1987. He was 22 and about to start seminary. Always thirsty and urinating frequently, he was losing weight and felt lethargic after eating. But Eckley, then a runner, assumed that his exercise routine was causing those effects — a sign of good health, if anything.
“It came on in such a way that I got used to feeling that way,” he said.
A routine physical revealed that what he was experiencing were symptoms of Type 1 diabetes. His blood sugar level was four times higher than what is considered normal.
He began taking insulin right away.
“It was amazing how good I started to feel,” Eckley said. Now he has an insulin pump, which is programmed to deliver insulin through the day.
Eckley, now 48, admits he didn't always take care of himself the way he should have. Fifteen years ago, during a barbecue with the youth group, he looked down and noticed a patch of hair on his leg was singed — he didn't feel it. He couldn't feel the ice pack he used to cool the skin, either.
The symptom is called neuropathy. It numbs sensation and is irreversible. Eckley said his has not gotten worse.
Eckley has settled into a routine of avoiding processed carbs and incorporating a lot of vegetables and fruits into his diet. When he's in a hurry, he grabs a protein bar formulated specifically for diabetics. He tracks his food intake with My Fitness Pal, an app on his smartphone.
He indulges sometimes, too. Dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate for those with diabetes, but “real cookies” taste better than the sugar-free variety, he said, so he has one every once in a while.
His experience managing the disease has helped him relate to students or other parishioners who struggle with their own diagnoses.
Eckley works out several days a week, usually in the evening. He will walk his dog on the Keystone Trail, lift free weights at home or use the elliptical at 24 Hour Fitness near 77th and Cass Streets.
He also attends a boot camp class called Buns and Guns on Mondays at the Mockingbird Hills Community Center in Omaha. He likes learning new strength exercises, working out with other people and the personal accountability that comes with group fitness classes.
Eckley recently made mention of the boot camp in a homily about adversity. Sometimes when you do good, he told his parish, you meet resistance.
“That doesn't mean we stop,” he said.
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