Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Spring Diabetes Conference focuses on awareness and prevention

By B.L. Azure

Mary Jane Charlo said not taking care of health concerns and/or problems is a gamble she is unwilling to take. (B.L. Azure photo) Mary Jane Charlo said not taking care of health concerns and/or problems is a gamble she is unwilling to take. (B.L. Azure photo)

POLSON — Diabetes is bad news in Indian Country and America. It can cause debilitating problems with the heart, eyes, kidneys, feet and gums. It also can cause strokes and it often leads to premature death. However diabetes is controllable and/or preventable with proper management based on patient awareness and education, an active lifestyle, a healthy diet, medication and professional medical guidance.

Patient awareness and education about the disease was a major theme at the 9th Annual Spring Diabetes Conference last week at the KwaTaqNuk Resort and Casino. The annual conference is sponsored and put on by the Tribal Health and Human Services Diabetes Prevention Program. The annual conference typically has about 100 participants, this year nearly 70 folks attended to listen to the presentations given by medical professionals and health care experts.

What is diabetes - Click here to learn about the disease

Registered Dietician Brenda Bodnar, THHS Diabetes Prevention Program manager, said she was pleased with the attendance and the presentations.

“The biggest message we wanted to get across was about the Diabetes Prevention Program that St. Patrick Hospital Diabetes Care and Prevention Center and Tribal Health are working together on,” Bodnar said.

Dr. Terry Mareska, University of Washington Medical School professor, discusses the traditional and cultural use of tobacco by American Indians. (B.L. Azure photo) Dr. Terry Mareska, University of Washington Medical School professor, discusses the traditional and cultural use of tobacco by American Indians. (B.L. Azure photo)

Diabetes results from having too much sugar in the blood due to a person’s inability to properly process it and transfer blood sugar to body cells and muscles where is used for energy — that begets the build up of blood sugar in a person’s physiology.

The first of the 10-month long diabetes education and lifestyle change program started this summer at the St. Ignatius Tribal Health Clinic. The second began about a month ago at the Polson Tribal Health Clinic. In the first St. Patrick Hospital was the lead presenter then Tribal Health took the reins to implement the second one. More are planned. Participants meet weekly for 16 weeks then monthly for the remaining six months.

Jennifer Troupe, of the St. Patrick Hospital Diabetes Care and Prevention Center, gave an overview of the ongoing initial Diabetes Prevention Program effort and its curriculum that focuses on folks with pre-diabetic indicators.

“We are all at risk for developing diabetes. I am all for prevention and diabetes is preventable, absolutely preventable,” Troupe said. “Our effort is the prevention of Type 2 diabetes. It is important that people change their lifestyles. It is important that people adopt a healthy diet and exercise; they are preventive efforts that work. We have prevented diabetes with this program.”

Jennifer Troupe, of Providence St. Patrick in Missoula, discusses the prevalence of diabetes in America and the Diabetes Prevention Program that Providence uses in an effort to curb diabetes. (B.L. Azure photo) Jennifer Troupe, of Providence St. Patrick in Missoula, discusses the prevalence of diabetes in America and the Diabetes Prevention Program that Providence uses in an effort to curb diabetes. (B.L. Azure photo)

Troupe said Montana is one of the national leaders in using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Diabetes Prevention Program curriculum.

People susceptible to developing diabetes include: people over 30 years of age; overweight people; people with sedentary lifestyle; those with a history of diabetes in their family; women who registered high blood sugar during pregnancy; and/or, women that have given birth to a baby that weighed more than nine pounds at birth.

The warning signs of diabetes, include: feeling tired; blurry vision; increased thirst; frequent urination; sores that don’t heal; sore gums; and unusual weight loss.

Lifestyle changes that include diet and exercise reverberated throughout the day by the various presenters.

Leeann Johnson, who works at the Missoula Indian Center, urged folks at the conference to change for the better when it comes to their physical health. That change would, among other things, include developing a healthy and active lifestyle.

“The changes you make to day will impact the future,” Johnson said, adding that in making lifestyle changes people should focus on spirituality, their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, their interactions in the social arena, and the awareness of the effects their environment has upon their lives. “Our bodies default when we when we don’t take care of ourselves. The body is like a computer that needs to be reprogrammed. The best way to begin the reprogramming is to get adequate rest and adequate physical activity.”

There were several prize drawings at the THHS Diabetes Program’s annual Spring Diabetes Conference. (B.L. Azure photo) There were several prize drawings at the THHS Diabetes Program’s annual Spring Diabetes Conference. (B.L. Azure photo)

Johnson suggested people get six to eight hours of sleep, walk at least 10-30 minutes daily with the goal of walking upwards to an hour a day, and limit the use of sugar. She also advocated relaxing exercise three times daily, as well as drinking plenty of water. “These are simple things that will help reprogram your cells — your body, and bring your stress level down,” she said. “And take time to laugh, that is really important, it’s a big deal and it helps to keep a person healthy. It all helps reduce your stress level.”

Dr. Terry Maresca, Mohawk, touched on a different theme: the use of tobacco in American Indian traditions. Dr. Maresca has a medical practice with the Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington at the Tolt Community Clinic where she combines her Western training with her knowledge of plant medicine. She maintains a medicinal garden at the clinic and is a frequent public speaker on the topic of combining Western and traditional approaches to health care. She is also a professor at the University of Washington Medical School.

In many tribal cultures tobacco is a sacred sacrament. The smoke from tobacco burned on sacred fires or in sacred pipes rises to the sky, carrying prayers to the Spirit World. It can be used as a daily offering to say prayers and give thanks to the Creator.

Dr. Maresca urged caution when it comes to tobacco because smoking it regularly can cause cancer as well as respiratory problems. When a person has other health problems such as diabetes the effects of tobacco smoking are exacerbated.

Leeann Johnson, executive director of the Missoula Indian Center, offers tips on maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. (B.L. Azure photo)  Leeann Johnson, executive director of the Missoula Indian Center, offers tips on maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. (B.L. Azure photo)

Eyesight is one of the problems that is negatively impacted by diabetes and smoking tobacco, said Dr. Clint Hoxie, THHS optometrist.

“The nicotine in tobacco causes the capillaries in the eyes to close, the restriction of blood flow can potentially lead to blindness,” Hoxie said. “People with high blood pressure and use nicotine are not going to win the battle when the blood vessels breakdown. The best thing to do is take nicotine out of the scenario.”

Hoxie said it was good health maintenance to get annual health check ups that include a trip to the optometrist regardless of whether they are presently wearing glasses. He added that about 50 percent of the people with diabetes eventually end up with debilitating eye diseases.

“You need to see an optometrist annually to head off the symptoms because by the time you feel the symptoms it’s too late,” Hoxie said. “When I see damage to the eyes I know that other things are going on.”

The bottom line to prevention of diabetes and other diseases it to get annual health check ups and live a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and physical activity, among other things.

For more information on the Diabetes Prevention Program, contact Brenda Bodnar at 745-3525, ext. 5020, or Nancy Grant, LPN, at ext. 5028.

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