Education plays big role  in diabetes management

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Teaching Wellness: Joy Pertrusha, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Palos Community Hospital, teaches a patient about portions and meal planning. | Supplied photo

Local Stats: Diagnosed


In Cook County:

2004: 7.3 percent

2010: 9.1 percent

In Will County:

2004: 5.7 percent

2010: 9.6 percent

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you’re one of 26 million Americans living with this disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You’re also in the company of celebrities like Tom Hanks, Paula Deen and Sherri Shepherd. But you don’t have to be a celebrity to take control of your health.

“As we age, we [naturally begin to] lose pancreatic function,” said Thomas Lee, internist at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.

The pancreas produces insulin that is released into the bloodstream to stabilize the blood sugar. When the pancreas don’t produce enough insulin to maintain a constant blood sugar level, Type 2 diabetes is often the result.

“If you’re overweight and you eat a lot of carbs, you stress your pancreas a lot more than people who don’t,” said Jennifer Zander, endocrinologist at Palos Community Hospital in Orland Park.

With at least 10 Type 2 diabetes patients on her daily schedule, Zander’s help is often enlisted to help regulate insulin levels of Type 2 patients who elect to see a specialist or who might have more complex cases.

“For patients with or without diabetes, one of the hardest things to do is change your lifestyle,” Zander shared.

Changing your lifestyle often means taking control of your nutrition, which is when she enlists the assistance of Palos Community Hospital’s diabetic and nutrition counseling team.

“The Game Plan is our introductory class … it teaches you the basics of diabetes,” said Lela Iliopoulos, RD, LDN, CDE, MS, dietitian supervisor and diabetes educator at Palos Community Hospital’s nutrition counseling and diabetes program.

The team of five diabetes educators makes sure to hit all the key points to ensure patients get the fundamentals of nutrition, especially as it relates to their disease.

Craig Cavanaugh, 45, of Orland Park, took advantage of the classes offered by the program after he was diagnosed six months ago. With benign symptoms, such as thirst and frequent urination, he had no idea he was exhibiting symptoms of the disease.

“It was warm out, I was running around … I didn’t think it was abnormal for me to be thirsty,” Cavanaugh said.

He met the challenge to change his life ­— proving that a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be an automatic prognosis of amputations, blindness, heart disease and other catastrophic health conditions associated with the advanced stages a Type 2 diagnoses can bring forth.

“It’s amazing what patients can do [to control their diabetes] when they decide to eat right and live a different lifestyle,” Zander said.

Cavanaugh used the information he learned from the diabetes educators and decided to cut out alcohol and sugared drinks. He also started to closely monitor his carb intake.

“We try hard to empower patients with knowledge and the tools they need so they can make changes slowly and do behavior modification,” Iliopoulos said.

With a great support system in his wife of 19 years, his physician and the diabetes educators at Palos, Cavanaugh seems to have a firm grip on what it takes to make the best of his “new life.”

“[During a busy day,] I just need to take five minutes for myself [to eat],” Cavanaugh said.

Now, he makes sure to take time during the day to eat regularly ­— at least five small meals a day and take his medication.

Cavanaugh has shed 40 pounds and his glucose readings decreased to within a normal range of 110-125 mg/dl — down from initial readings of 400mg/dl.

Type 2 diabetes is manageable with the right attitude, the right plan of attack and a good support system.

“When you’re first diagnosed, everything comes at you so fast that you’re almost overwhelmed … it’s been a big change, but it’s been a change for the good,” Cavanaugh said.