Program reaches out to region’s diabetics

Agnes Hapka

September 20, 2013

POINT PLEASANT —Natalie Tappe and Teddi Craddock are reaching out to diabetics in Mason County who would like to feel more empowered in their own treatment and gain a better understanding of the condition.

“West Virginia is third-worst in the country when it comes to diabetes-prevalence,” said Tappe, project manager for the program “Everybody With Diabetes Counts.”

“We are West Virginia Medical Institute, the quality-improvement institute for the state of West Virginia, added that the Institute was awarded a project in October of 2012 by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to enroll 6000 medicare beneficiaries into the program.

“We’re trying to find diabetic medicare beneficiaries in churches, hospitals, anywhere we can,” said Tappe. “There’s more than 200 diabetics in the state.”

“The difficulty is just getting people to come out,” said Craddock, project coordinator.

The program is free to all participants. Tappe and Craddock hold meetings, or classes, in 22 rural counties in West Virginia.

“We focus on type-2 diabetics who are medicare beneficiaries, but we don’t turn anyone away,” Tappe said.

When it comes to organs, diabetes is an equal-opportunity disease, said Tappe.

“It affects every organ in your body. So we want to make sure people know that someone with diabetes is four times more likely to have a heart attack.”

Tappe said that the idea is to help people make their own decisions relating to their health.

“That way they know to say to a doctor, “I have a sore on my foot, could you look at that?”” Tappe said. “We want to empower everyone to take care of his or her own diabetes,”

Tappe said that she and others working on the project try to cover all the essential topics in their meetings.

“We have eight modules that we go through. We talk about medications, exercise, complications,” said Tappe.

“One of the biggest modules is about nutrition. We don’t teach carbohydrate-counting or anything like that, instead we take this approach, “if you’re going to eat that piece of cake, then eat that piece of cake. But maybe have a really small piece and modify your diet in other ways.”

Tappe added that all the teaching tools she, Craddock, and the others use, are interactive.

“We use strainers to show what what your kidneys are doing: whether it’s good or bad,” Tappe said. “We use a lot of flip-charts, a lot of color.

“In one of our classes in the nutrition module we have tubs of lard, sugar and salt. We look at menus from McDonalds, Burger King, and other fast-food restaurants, and figure out what items on the menu represent in these terms.”

“It’s extremely eye-opening,” said Tappe.

Tappe and the other program organizers talk to the groups about relating food choices to the way they feel and their general health.

“It’s not a lecture. We don’t say “You can’t have that,” or “Why are you eating that?” We talk about portion-control, and making choices.” Tappe said.

“We say to people, if they have to eat at McDonalds, we say for instance, “Okay, cut the milkshake. And instead of french-fries, have onion rings,”” said Craddock, “Because onion rings aren’t nearly as high in carbohydrates.”

One of the main points of the program, though, is to show people that they, and their health, matter.

“The main thing I like to be able to tell them is “I’m glad you came because you’re important to me.”” Craddock said. “I think that’s important because the doctors will push them through and they don’t believe anyone really cares.”

“They hand you a paper and say, “Okay, here’s your medicine. Here’s what you need to take.”” said Tappe.

Tappe said that the Diabetes Empowerment Education Program ends this particular program in 2014, but is currently training 50 trainers to teach in the “Everybody Counts” program for the future.

She hopes to see the program continue, and hopes it helps people to see that they can improve their lives and health.

“Sometimes people have a fatalistic attitude. People say “Well, I’ve got the sugar. It’s been in my family for generations.” And they don’t do anything to change.” Tappe said. “If we can prevent one person from losing a limb, or going blind, or ending up on dialysis, it’s worth it.”

Upcoming meetings, which are free to all who attend, are as follows: 9:30 a.m. Monday, September 23 at Mason Senior Center; 1 p.m., Tuesday, September 24, at Point Pleasant Library; at 1 p.m., Wednesday, September 25, at Point Pleasant Library.