The Sun News

Q&A with Vicky Alexander

Alexander
Alexander

Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Diabetes educator, Houston Healthcare

Q: This is American Diabetes Month. Does it focus on Type 1 diabetes or Type 2?

A: It focuses on diabetes in general. Most of our work and education relates to Type 2 diabetes because that’s what the majority of people have. It’s about a 90 percent or so split, with about 90 percent having Type 2 and about 10 percent Type 1. The vast majority of people in our programs have Type 2.

Q: Where are those programs?

A: Houston Healthcare in Warner Robins and in Perry.

Q: What’s the difference between Type 1 and Type 2?

A: Mainly, those diagnosed with Type 1 have no or very little insulin production so they need insulin therapy the rest of their lives. Those with Type 2 produce some insulin but it’s not working properly. It is possible to treat Type 2 diabetes with a good nutrition plan, exercise and healthy life choices. Type 1 is a disease of the immune system that patients have no control over. Type 2 is related to weight, exercise and lifestyle.

Q: What causes diabetes?

A: We don’t know exactly, but with Type 1 it’s a matter of the immune system attacking cells resulting in diabetes. It’s an autoimmune disease that, again, isn’t related to lifestyle. Most Type 1 diabetics aren’t overweight at all and most are younger when diagnosed.

Q: So you “get” Type 1 diabetes when you’re young?

A: Most are diagnosed while young, but adults can be diagnosed just as well, so it’s not just that children “get” it. And you don’t really “get” it the way you think of most things. You can’t catch it. It develops in the body for unknown reasons as an immune system disorder.

Q: So Type 2 diabetes is diet, weight, exercise and lifestyle related — and can it be prevented?

A: Type 2 can be delayed and even prevented with a good nutrition plan and exercise on a regular basis. A sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, poor eating habits, family history and a history of gestational diabetes are certainly all contributing factors.

Q: What should people know? What’s the most important thing to learn or do regarding diabetes?

A: For those with diabetes and those without it, the best thing, the first thing to do is get educated and then develop a suitable lifestyle. For both types that includes a good nutrition plan, which is the cornerstone to managing Type 1 or 2 and having a longer and better quality of life. Though it doesn’t cause Type 1 diabetes, good nutrition and exercise is crucial managing both types. Lower blood sugar delays and prevents complications.

Q: Education such as Houston Healthcare provides.

A: Yes, and our diabetes management program is nationally recognized and certified, which isn’t an easy thing. We have programs and educators at both hospitals.

Q: Who certifies your program?

A: The American Diabetes Association. We have five certified diabetes educators.

Q: Including yourself?

A: Yes, I’m certified and a registered nurse.

Q: Describe the programs.

A: We have our annual Diabetes Awareness Day program which is actually today at 9 a.m. at Houston Health Pavilion at Watson Boulevard and North Houston Road. Our ongoing diabetes management program is for patients referred to us by physicians — but we can help people get referred if needed. First there’s a one-on-one assessment with a nurse to determine needs and a personal course of action. Then there’s nutritional education and then two comprehensive skills courses. They teach important day-to-day skills for managing diabetes. We also have support groups for patients and their families and friends, plus we offer an annual continuing education update for health care providers related to diabetes treatment and management. Treatment is continually being changed and updated.

Q: How about education for the general public?

A: We provide speakers who can talk to different groups. We also have cooking classes, the monthly support groups, Small Steps and a variety of other beneficial programs and classes. Times and dates are listed in our regular newsletter called HouseCalls.

Q: What is Small Steps?

A: It’s a class aimed at prevention of the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Q: How many typically take part in programs overall in a year?

A: We’ve averaged from about 300 to 400 for the past 20 years. It’s nice to think we’ve helped prevent a lot of compilations from diabetes through the years.

Q: What are some complications?

A: Diabetes is the No. 1 cause of kidney failure. If you manage diabetes well, you can forestall or avoid that. It’s also a major cause of blindness, amputations, heart disease, stroke and a number of other diseases. This is why we promote education and diabetes management. And 90 to 95 percent of diabetes management is done by the patients themselves.

Q: How can people get in touch for information?

A: Call 478-923-9771 and you’ll be directed from there.

Q: Finally, what are the warning signs of diabetes?

A: Frequent running to the bathroom, blurred vision, greatly increased thirst, hunger, delayed healing of wounds and fatigue — feeling tired. Of course, there can be an abrupt, dramatic health episode of some sort where the person has to get to a doctor or the emergency room and are diagnosed. But it’s much better to be diagnosed through regular check-ups, screenings and tests that show diabetes.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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