As a young child you watched as your grandfather struggled to keep his “sugar” under control. You were there when he had to go to the hospital for an amputation. And, you were there too, when he lost his vision.
It was hard for your mother to see this strong man become so dependent on others. But it was even harder for her years later when she came home to announce that the doctor had diagnosed her with diabetes. You shared her fears that this news meant she too could suffer the serious health problems that plagued her father. And now your day has come. Your doctor says you may be a borderline diabetic. You fear there is nothing you can do.
Does this story sound familiar?
Unfortunately it’s not just a story. In the Virgin Islands this scenario is all too common. In fact, research shows that not only do VI African Americans and Hispanics have a 3.4 times higher frequency of diabetes (9.5%) compared to non-Hispanic Whites (4.7%) but that as of 2009 Diabetes was the fourth leading cause of death in the VI with 8.8% of the VI population above 18 years of age having been diagnosed with diabetes.
So what can be done?
On March 25 representatives from the Virgin Islands Medical Institute (VIMI) hosted a half-day American Diabetes Alert Day Symposium aimed at empowering individuals with diabetes and their families on what can be done to take control of their health.
“It’s about personal responsibility,” stated Dr. Cora Christian, Medical Director of VIMI, the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) for the Virgin Islands. “The sense of helplessness that VI diabetics have is not one that should exist. I tell everyone, ‘Don’t deny the diagnosis – defy the verdict.’ Virgin Islanders don’t have to suffer the loss of their eyes, legs, kidneys or experience heart problems. You are stronger than that. You can gain the knowledge and skills - you are able to handle diabetes.”
Over 80 St. Croix residents signed up for the class held at the VI Cardiac Center adjacent to the Juan Luis Hospital to learn about taking charge of their diabetes. They spent the morning learning about the complications of diabetes; participating in learning games, and listened to presentations from nutritionists, certified diabetic educators, community health workers, a cardiologist, and a physiatrist.
On leaving the training, one participant who had taken the training previously said that what she learned was “do-able”. “I’ve tried to eat right, exercise and visit my doctor regularly.”
Another participant indicated that although she has been a diabetic for 43 years, she learned a great deal from the training. As a new diabetic she experienced a very difficult time during the first 10 years. Her sugar level frequently was well over 500. Years ago, although she was working to manage her sugar level, she experienced a minor injury which resulted in an amputation.
“That is when I fully realized how diabetes affects all parts of the body and that’s when I got frightened. It became a do it or die situation for me.”
Now, she takes every opportunity to talk with her daughter and granddaughter about working to prevent the onset of diabetes.