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How the Sentara Diabetes Management Program helps patients understand and learn to live with their disease

November is American Diabetes Management month and with more than 30 million people living with diabetes in the U.S., it’s no wonder the American Diabetes Association estimates at least seven million of those people, don’t even realize they’re living the disease.

Health organizations and those working within the field say the disease has reached epidemic portions. It’s something the Sentara Diabetes Management Program team sees every day.

“The numbers are increasing, both type one and two are on the rise,” says Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator Robyn Johanson, “It is a chronic, lifelong illness that really requires the person to learn the skills to self-manage their diabetes. And with that, they need a lot of ongoing support and the necessary tools to do that successfully.”

Diabetes can be confusing

When you eat, your body turns food into sugars, or glucose. At that point, your pancreas is supposed to release insulin.  Insulin serves as a “key” to open your cells, to allow the glucose to enter — and allows you to use the glucose for energy. But with diabetes, this system does not work.

“Diabetes is a problem with your body using the sugar we need for energy, so someone with type one diabetes is unable to get that sugar out of their blood. People with type two, have a bit more difficulty doing so, because of a hormone called insulin. So type one needs to take insulin, because their body doesn’t make any. Whereas type two diabetes, they tend to have trouble using that insulin. So clinically, it’s a lifelong management of controlling medicine, physical activity, healthy eating and monitoring blood sugar, as well,” explains Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Abbie Chesterson.

For more than 30 years, the team at the Sentara Diabetes Management Program has been helping patients understand and learn to live with their disease.

Our patients come to us through physician referrals. We are a group of nurses, dietitians and community health workers who follow a standard set of blood sugar targets for American Diabetes Educators,” explains Team Coordinator Genevieve Thompson.

Thompson, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator, oversees the team made up of three full-time and three part-time employees. While the group gets referrals from area doctors, it’s up to the patients to show up and make the commitment to make some changes. But, admitting there’s a problem can be overwhelming for some just learning they have the disease.

People feel like they failed. Their pancreases failed, the person hasn’t failed,” says Johanson. “When you say that to somebody, they feel a lot better because they blame themselves.”

Within the Sentara Health System, Northern Virginia has the largest diabetes management program. Not only is this a densely populated region, it’s culturally diverse and those different cultures bring different diabetes management challenges. The team has gone out into the community and sees the type of food which is traditional for each culture.

“We individualize it. If someone comes in from a Middle Eastern country, we have a list of typical Middle Eastern foods that we can talk about, because maybe they’re not going to have hamburger buns and French fries. We try to make it as beneficial to the patient as can be,” explains Chesterson.

Some symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, nerve sensation changes, blurry vision and slow healing. But, not everyone has those traditional warning signs, and that’s why community health members go out to the public.

The program, along with a grant from the Potomac Health Foundation has started doing pre-diabetes screenings over the last three years, more than a thousand people have been screened.

“Early care and detection is so important. The positive side, when you detect it early you can work at preventing the progression of type two diabetes,” explains Community Health Educator, Johanna Segovia, MPH.

Regardless of the type of diabetes, this group is committed to caring. The team wants to empower people so they can live their healthiest life while managing their disease.

“Patients shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and get help. If they’re struggling, we can get them back on track and offer support,” explains Thompson.

Adds Chesterson, “Education is really important if you don’t know what to do it’s going to be even harder, so learn what you can do. That’s why we’re here.”

“Having a chronic disease is very stressful and once you are you in control of it, a lot of that stress goes away because you’re managing it. It’s not managing you,” adds Johanson.

If you have any questions about managing your diabetes, finding a diabetes support group or learning more about the pre-diabetes program, call 703-523-0590 or email: SNVMCdiabetesed@sentara.com.

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