Under New, and Better, Management

By Gary Hesselink

The way Gary Hesselink figured it, attending diabetes education classes at Mid-Columbia Medical Center could only be enhanced by taking his personal chef along with him.

“She does the cooking,” The Dalles resident says with a chuckle of his wife, Karen, who joined him on the educational opportunity.

Diet and exercise are two of the keys to keeping blood sugar under control, so the couple went together to MCMC’s diabetes management course last summer. Since then, Gary has lost 25 pounds, and his blood sugar numbers have dropped as well.

“I learned that diabetes is something that you don’t want to mess with,” he says. “You need to keep track of what you’re eating and how it’s affecting your blood sugar.” “Chef” Karen agrees.

“I found it very helpful to understand how food affects our bodies,” she says. “They taught us a lot.”

Among the nutrition lessons the Hesselinks learned: eat a healthy, balanced diet and start eating more vegetables.

According to dietitian and MCMC diabetes educator Jennifer Zimmerman, the Diabetes Management program helps people learn, in classes and individual sessions, the different types of diabetes and how to manage the chronic disease and prevent long-term complications. The program is accredited by the American Diabetes Association and is led by a team of diabetes educators, including registered nurses and registered dietitians.

“Diabetes is a progressive disease, which means a person’s overall blood sugar control can change over time — even if they are doing exceptionally well with lifestyle management of diabetes,” Zimmerman says. “We can help them understand what changes are needed to help get their blood sugars back in control.”

Physicians may not have time to address these areas in detail, but diabetes educators do. Changes may be desired for a variety of reasons — a medication change is needed, or exercise and stress management may be helpful.

“Maybe they had a change in their life that makes is difficult to manage their diabetes as they did before and they need support services from us,” she says. ““If someone is having a hard time managing their diabetes, we work with them to identify what the barriers are and find out what diabetes goals are important to them. Then we work together to figure out how they can meet that goal.”

According to the American Association of Diabetes Educators, research shows people who have received diabetes education are more likely to use primary care and preventive services; take medications as prescribed; control their blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels; and experience lower health costs.

Medicare and most health plans cover the classes in accredited programs like the one at MCMC. Diabetes educators teach, coach and guide patients, helping them understand diabetes in the context of their personal lives.

“Diabetes is really a self-management disease,” Zimmerman says. “We want to establish a foundation for that management. Diabetes classes can give people that foundation.”

The Hesselinks say they’ve definitely benefited from the program and recommend it to others. In addition to watching their diet, they exercise more often. They work hard — Karen at Fred Meyer in The Dalles and Gary at Tum-A-Lum Lumber in Hood River — but Gary says the exercise at work “doesn’t count.” He now rides his bike regularly, and sometimes walks miles to Fred Meyer on his days off — just for the benefit of exercise and keeping blood sugar low.

“Work is work, you can’t count it as exercise,” he says. “We now try to stay more active in the evenings. It was kind of hard for me to get started, but once I started doing it became easier.”

Even when the couple dines out, Karen says she is familiar with what they should order and what kind of portions they should eat.

“I can pretty much see it in my head.” she says. Whether eating in or out, if there is extra food, she adds, it can be saved for the next day’s lunch.

Learning to cook healthy for someone with diabetes has even helped Karen learn something new about her husband.

“He actually likes green beans,” she says.

For information on MCMC’s comprehensive diabetes education classes, call Diabetes Services at 541-296-7319.