Lessons for life

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Local Stats:

In Lake County:

2004: 9.3 percent

2010: 12.4 percent

In Porter County:

2004: 6.7 percent

2010: 9.9 percent

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Diabetes has become a national epidemic over the last several years, and is an even greater health problem in Northwest Indiana, where the number of diabetics is higher than the national average, said Dorothy Klapak, a certified diabetes educator at Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Hammond.

“It’s a huge issue. It can lead to more chronic health problems that carry into the hospital and use a lot of health care dollars,” Klapak said.

Klapak, RN, a diabetes advanced practice nurse and coordinator for the Franciscan Alliance outpatient diabetes program, along with a group of certified diabetes educators, are working to lower the local percentages through a comprehensive education program recognized by the American Diabetes Association.

Klapak said Franciscan St. Margaret-Health was the first hospital in the region to have an ADA-recognized program back in 1991, and as the Franciscan Alliance grew, so did the program. She coordinates diabetes education programs at Franciscan St. Anthony Health locations in Crown Point and Michigan City, Franciscan St. Margaret Health locations in Dyer and Hammond, Franciscan Hammond Clinic and Franciscan Medical Specialists in Munster.

Klapak said she’s been a part of the education program since it started in Hammond and is now part of a qualified group of educators consisting of nurses and dietitians.

“We have certified diabetes educators at all our sites. I don’t think people realize how much there is to becoming certified. It takes a minimum of two years, a couple thousand hours of actual teaching time and passing a pretty difficult test,” she said.

Klapak said the classes can help people learn how to live productive lives despite the disease.

“There is so much wrong information out there. Some think, ‘Grandma had it so I will do what she did.’ But that may not work for you. We need to individualize each patient,” Klapak said.

Klapak said the classes comprise four, two-hour visits. She said some are run once a week for four weeks, other run on
consecutive days.

“We try to meet everyone’s needs,” she said.

Klapak said the classes begin with an assessment of every patient to get an idea of their habits and cover nine topics including the disease process, nutrition management, medications, monitoring blood glucose, preventing and detecting complications and long-term complications.

Klapak said individuals
taking the class are asked to set personal goals and the educators always follow up to see if the students met their goals. She said the goals can be as simple as switching from white bread to whole wheat, testing their own blood sugar at various times and starting an exercise program.

“The disease itself can be very devastating, leading to blindness, cardiovascular disease and nerve damage in the feet that could result in gangrene and amputation,” she said.

While not a diabetic herself, Klapak said her sister has been a Type 1 diabetic since age 10.

“I use her as an example in classes. She’s fine. I show you can lead a very productive life if you take care of yourself,” she said.