When John Karaffa pulled a back muscle in 2003, he figured he might as well get some blood work at the same doctor visit, since he was due for a physical anyway. What he heard at that appointment was far more painful than the twinge in his lumbar region.
“The doctor came in from getting the results and said, ‘You’re diabetic, and your blood sugar is through the roof right now,’” Karaffa recalls. The situation was so significant that Karaffa got a shot of insulin immediately.
“I was shocked. I didn’t even really know what diabetes was. I’d heard the term before, but it didn’t mean anything to me.”
Taking Control and Managing Change
After a follow-up appointment and lots of internet research about diabetes, Karaffa and his wife, Rebecca, cleared out their cupboards, fridge and freezer to restock them with diabetes-friendly food options.
For Karaffa, who comes from a food-loving Italian family, the switch was tough, but doable. It helped to have the support of his wife, mother and sister, who all focused on creating meals he could eat and still enjoy.
For years, he became diligent about keeping his A1C at the right level, and even researched his favorite food stops when traveling — for example, there is only one type of doughnut he can enjoy at Dunkin Donuts (but at least he knows which one it is!). He also joined a support group early on, which helped enormously, he recalls.
“It helps to talk with people who are going through what you are, because they understand your struggles, and you can exchange ideas about what’s working,” Karaffa says. “It felt so encouraging, and it helped me to have a better outlook on my condition.”
Then Karaffa’s work schedule changed. He couldn’t make the group meetings anymore, and even worse, his A1C began creeping upward again. He felt frustrated and worried. After a visit with his doctor, Angela Sutton, MD, an endocrinologist at Augusta Health who put him on a new medication, his numbers settled back down. But then they kept dropping.
“Suddenly, I was too low, and I’d never had that problem before,” he says. “I felt very anxious because I tried to control it on my own, and I’d go high again. It seemed out of control.”
That’s when Karaffa began talking to the diabetes educators through the Diabetes Self-Management Education Program at Augusta Health. The comprehensive program provides one-on-one sessions with diabetes specialists.
“I’m blown away by how great this program is and what it’s done for me,” he says. “I’ve been dealing with my diabetes for 15 years, but this is the first time I feel like I truly have complete control over my condition.”
The program focuses on education — and that means teaching patients how to handle diabetes on their own, with support, rather than telling them what to do. That is making a huge difference for Karaffa, and the many other patients who rely on the program for help.
“Because I was learning what I could do in a very practical way, it took away all my anxiety,” he says. “My numbers are back on track, but even more important, I know what to do now if they start to change.”
A Comprehensive Approach
The program aims to teach patients how to prevent complications, incorporate physical activity, track food, prepare and plan meals and problem solve, says Jean Magee, MEd, RDH, CDE, a diabetes educator. The program brings in guest speakers, runs support groups and offers individual sessions where patients can set goals and get guidance on how to meet those goals.
“Having a chronic disease like diabetes can be overwhelming. There’s so much information to navigate, especially with new products and new technology coming out all the time,” Magee says. “We help people learn what they can do to take control.”
Another important aspect of the diabetes education program is how much it involves family members, adds Caroline Hackley, MEd, RD, CDE, outpatient diabetes and nutrition self-management education program coordinator.
“Having a solid source of support helps people with any kind of chronic condition, including diabetes,” she says. For Karaffa, including Rebecca in the education sessions has helped them control his diabetes together.
“All of this has helped her health as well, since we both eat better now,” he says. “And it makes me feel like I have a team supporting me — one that includes my wife and family, and everyone at Augusta Health. That kind of support really matters, and it makes a big difference when you’re dealing with a lifelong condition.”
For more information about the Augusta Health Diabetes Education Program, call (540) 213-2537 or email Jean Magee, MEd, RDH, CDE, at email@example.com.