By: Kim Higgins
Diabetes care creates its own culture. There is a passion that surrounds the caretakers of the diabetes community. It is the small successes that spark us to keep on until the next one. Diabetes care creates champions out of all of us. I’d like to mention just a few of the hundreds of diabetes educators I have met.
For many years, “Andy,” a nurse from Santa Rosa, California, has taken two weeks of her vacation time to travel to the Ukraine. She teaches a diabetes class in the local language and brings insulin and supplies she’s collected from around Northern California. The insulin is stored in a World War I bunker at 56 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure its freshness over the next year.
Parents bring their children by train from as far away as Moscow to obtain the life-giving hormone that will allow their children to continue growing. There is no intensive management or titration, just life and death. Each child is weighed and his or her insulin needs for the upcoming year are determined. This amount of insulin is then carefully issued to the parents for use over the next 12 months. Pregnant women arrive, anxious to learn how to safely deliver a healthy child. Glucagon is handed out to the families with the most fragile children who live on rural farms. These children would die if their seizures could not be abated.
Andy is a diabetes champion.
Peggy Huang is a graduate of the Presbyterian School of Nursing in Philadelphia and is a certified diabetes educator, par excellence! Peggy developed the award-winning Diabetes Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) many years before ADA certification. She co-founded the Diabetes Teaching Center at UCSF in 1977. Although retired as program coordinator, she continues to serve as a program consultant and sees patients for individual counseling.
Peggy was part of the original team to implement the concepts of intensive diabetes self-management in Northern California in 1974. She helped establish several other teaching programs and is a mentor to nurse educators in countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan, as well as those in the San Francisco Bay Area. From 1978 to 1992, she was the coordinator and principal instructor for the Diabetes Teaching Center.
Peggy is also an active advocate for educating Asian Americans with diabetes in the Bay Area. She is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin. After retiring, she continued volunteering and set up a free diabetes clinic for the elderly. The San Francisco Chinese community now has facilities and services that would not have existed without Peggy’s passion and commitment.
Peggy is a diabetes champion.
Jeanie Hickey, RN, CDE, currently puts her passion into the Dogs for Diabetes program. She has donated time, energy, and her own hard work to train the dogs to alert on the scent of a person with diabetes becoming hypoglycemic. Jeanie fosters dogs in training, promotes their benefits to individuals at risk for severe hypoglycemia, participates in identifying recipients of a dog, and helps coordinate training and graduation. She even collects food, buys stuffed dogs to use as fundraisers, and visits any group interested in learning about these amazing dogs.
Jeanie also donates her summer to work at Bearskin Meadows, a diabetes camp in Northern California. The camp understands that diabetes is a condition that affects the entire family of a child with diabetes, including siblings and parents. Bearskin Meadow gives families a uniquely supportive community of peers and adults who truly understand the day-to-day challenges of living with diabetes.
Jeannie is a diabetes champion.
Molly Keane is one of our fallen diabetes heroes. Molly exemplified what a typical diabetes educator is: devoted to helping patients obtain the best control they can. She often took phone calls from patients at night and on weekends. If a patient needed extra care due to illness or pregnancy, she proactively called them and spoke to them daily or even more often if that was necessary. In addition to her patient care, she took on the mentoring of new educators as an important role. She knew this would help even more patients. She did this with compassion, wit, adaptability, and dedication.
Molly died in a tragic accident off the Sonoma coast last February when she tried to save her elderly dog from a rogue wave. Throughout her short life, she touched so many of us. Educators all over the western United States remember how Molly paid such close attention and how she made herself available to so many. She was full of caring and charisma. We are responsible for carrying Molly’s work forward. She inspires all of us.
Molly was one of us, an everyday diabetes champion.
We are all champions in the diabetes community. We are passionate. We are there for all the important moments in our patients’ lives. Take a moment every day in November, Diabetes Awareness Month to tell yourself what a great job you’re doing and to encourage yourself to make the changes you want to see in the world.