Matthew’s journey with diabetes

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By Matthew Van Bruggen, TCHC Board of Directors


November is American Diabetes Month.

Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes your pancreas to reduce or stop producing insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood and related blood-sugar levels. I am one of the approximately 3 million Americans who have type 1 diabetes.

There are two types. With type 1, your pancreas shuts down and stops producing insulin. With type 2, your pancreas still functions but doesn’t make enough insulin.

I grew up in Wadena and moved back here in 2004 with my beautiful wife, Shanna. We have four children, all of whom were born at TCHC.

Chance diagnosis

I was a 21-year-old college student at the University of South Dakota when I first learned I had diabetes. Some friends and I went for ice cream, and one of my friends, who had type 1 diabetes, decided to check my blood sugar for fun. My blood sugar turned out to be higher than normal.

I soon learned I also had type 1 diabetes. It was surreal, as I had not had any health problems. I decided that I would make the most of the diagnosis and embrace the lifestyle changes that I would face through education, healthy eating and exercise.

Daily life

My day starts and ends no different than most people. However, in between, it involves checking my blood sugar four to six times a day by pricking my finger and ensuring my blood sugar levels are controlled. I wear an insulin pump, which administers insulin. Based on what I eat, I have to take additional insulin.Close-up Of Person Hands Holding Glucometer At Desk

Living with diabetes is not without challenges. If I don’t take enough insulin, my blood sugar rises and could cause a condition known as ketoacidosis where I can get really sick. If my blood sugar gets too low, I can get lightheaded and shaky.

One thing that helps me control my diabetes is diet. Fortunately, my wife is a trained chef and is passionate about creating healthy recipes for our family that also support a type 1 diabetic lifestyle. We also stay physically active, and combined with diet, these are the two ways I can control my diabetes.

Despite the challenges of diabetes, it’s a disease that you can manage and allows you to live a normal life with lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. The more you do those, the less insulin you’re going to use and the healthier you’ll be.

More awareness, more research

Many autoimmune diseases, not just diabetes, are prevalent in today’s society, which have led to more awareness and more research.

I believe that the research being done will result in a “cure” for type I diabetes in my lifetime. The technology for living with diabetes has improved dramatically since I was diagnosed.

If you receive a diabetes diagnosis, learn as much as possible because it’s going to change your life. You should also understand that it’s not a terminal diagnosis. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic, but they can be managed with lifestyle changes. You can live a very normal life. Just stay positive.

Resources close to home

Tri-County Health Care has come a long way in the past decade with diabetes awareness and the ability to serve our patients. We have a great diabetes education program with knowledgeable educators who are willing to go above and beyond for our patients.

We treat diabetic patients, and if there’s ever a situation where our providers don’t have an answer, they know where to find it. I visited an endocrinologist in Minneapolis for many years but now feel more comfortable treating with Dr. John Pate instead. The care he provides me is exemplary.

Anyone who has diabetes or who is interested in learning more about diabetes is welcome to attend TCHC’s Diabetes Support Group, which meets the third Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center in Wadena.

For more information about diabetes, call the TCHC Diabetes Education Department at 218-632-7113 or click here.


Matt and his family posing for a photo by the lake.

Matt with his wife, Shanna, and their four children.

About the Author: Matthew Van Bruggen is married to Shanna, and they have four children, Ava, 11; Jack, 9; Theo, 2; and Vivian, 1. He has served on the TCHC Board of Directors since 2010. He is a practicing attorney, a youth hockey coach and an avid sports fan of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Wild.  He also enjoys spending time with his family and enjoying many of the year-round outdoor activities Minnesota has to offer.

Why Step Out for Diabetes in Wadena

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By: Pam Doebbeling, RN

pamdiabetesblog2As part of the Tri-County Health Care Diabetes Education team since 2007, I have seen many changes in diabetes from treatment to the sheer number of people diabetes. Today, 29 million Americans have diabetes, and those numbers are only increasing.

I feel diabetes is a disease that has or will touch almost everyone at some time in their life, thru family members or friends.

It is a disease that involves participation and lifestyle changes to help control.  These seem to be the biggest benefits and the biggest drawbacks. Change is hard.

Thru the American Diabetes Association (ADA), we are able to “Step Out” and make more people aware of diabetes.  This past May we hosted our first ever diabetes walk. We had a group of people participate on a cold Saturday morning in May at Sunnybrook Park. Many local Wadena businesses participated along with Novo Nordisk, Lilly, and Bayer. Not only did we have fun and support each other while out getting some exercise, but we raised $1,000 for the American Diabetes Association!

At Tri County we are proud to have “stepped out” for diabetes as an awareness event.

Look for an announcement coming soon about our date for 2017! We will be having vendor displays, a beautiful walk around the park, and the opportunity to raise money, plus awareness for diabetes.

Get on your walking shoes and join us in supporting this important cause!

2016 Diabetes Walk

2016 Diabetes Walk

About the Author: Pam Doebbeling, RN, has been at TCHC for 23 years. She’s been a part of the diabetes education team for nine years. She lives in Verndale and has two grown children and five grandchildren, and one cranky cat! She’s also part of the Wellness Committee and is in charge of the monthly Diabetes Support Group. To learn more about that group and the various monthly topics, click here:


Living With Diabetes

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Living with diabetes can be scary. Depending on insulin to save your life can be scary. And, switching from daily insulin injections to managing your disease with an insulin pump can be scary. The fear can be a big hurdle for many – both physically and emotionally. And, for Ron Grewe, of Bertha, he was no exception. In fact, one could argue that Ron’s hurdle was larger than most because not only was he living with Diabetes, he had also lost the use of his left arm five years earlier to a stroke.

Ron’s journey with Diabetes began more than 15 years ago. It started with a blood sugar level of 640, just 10 units shy of the point at which organs start shutting down. Prior to his diagnosis, Ron was unaware that Diabetes ran in the family. The oldest of 10 kids, Ron quickly learned that he wasn’t alone in this journey. Although no one had previously talked to him about their chronic disease, after he learned of his Diabetes, he also learned that both his parents and all of his siblings were diagnosed with the same fate.

When Dr. Pate first detected that Ron had Diabetes, he started Ron on a prescription of pills and sent him to Diabetes Educators Pam Doebelling and Sue Sigurdson. Because medications are only effective for a given amount of time, Ron got to a point in his life where he needed to make a choice about what to do next. And, approximately six years ago Ron choose insulin shots, a common decision and one that many people living with diabetes choose.

Recently, Ron was faced with another decision – continue insulin shots or try something else. With the help of Miranda Weaklend, Tri-County Health Care’s newest Diabetes Educator, Ron was introduced to the Insulin Pump. Rather than spikes and jolt of all the insulin units at one time like you get with the shots, an insulin pump gives a steady flow to your body, working much more like a working pancreas. The pump would allow Ron to correct his insulin with precision.iStock_000002701372_Large

Initially, because Ron doesn’t like change, he said “No.” Through education and conversations with Miranda, Ron learned that pumps can be pretty amazing things and can help lead to lower A1Cs and fewer low blood sugar events. Saying yes, was a courageous new step for Ron in his diabetes management.

And, while learning the infusion pump is scary and frustrating for most newly diagnosed patients, Ron was justifiably frustrated learning a task that generally needs two hands. “I could see the wheels spinning in his head as he was trying to figure out how to adapt what needed to be done and how he could do it with the use of just his right arm,” said Miranda.

Change is scary when you don’t know what is involved, admitted Ron. Yet, if you have a good educator that can show you how it works and you can call when needed, the easier it is, he said.

Paper bag with the word diabetes filled with healthy foods

A healthy lifestyle is an important part of diabetes management.

Ron was quick to add that the infusion pump is only as good as the user. If you aren’t honest or accurate with your carb counting, you don’t consistently check your blood sugar and you don’t do all the regular stuff involved with diabetes management, you won’t get accurate results. An insulin pump is no magic solution, they do exactly what you tell them to do with the information you input. Since having the pump, Ron has not had an incident of high blood sugar. And, he can feel a difference, physically. He is not so groggy, he has more energy and according to his wife he is even bossier.

With the infusion pump, Ron doesn’t have the safety net of that long last lasting insulin in his system, but like many things in life it’s a compromise. With the insulin pump, Ron receives smaller doses of rapid acting insulin every few minutes. It responds more like a non-diabetic pancreas, giving Ron more control and flexibility.

Learning to live with Diabetes – to check blood sugar, to count carbs, to choose healthy food options – these are permanent life changes, and they are tough. And, having a machine as your constant companion can honestly get annoying. Yet, according to Ron, all of those moments pale in comparison to how hard work, the support of his wife and the dedication of Miranda, his diabetes educator, and the rest of his medical team keep him alive and well.

Want more information?
For more information about Diabetes Education at Tri-County Health Care, contact Miranda Weaklend, Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator at 218-631-7471 or via e-mail at

Support Group Information:
Tri-County Health Care offers a support group for people living with Diabetes. Anyone with an interest in understanding more about Diabetes is invited to attend. The Diabetes Support Group meets the second Monday of each month at 3:30 p.m. at Tri-County Health Care’s Wadena campus. Please visit the front desk for meeting location. Click here for more information:

About the author:
Ron Grewe has lived in Bertha, Minnesota most of his life. He graduated from Bertha High School and worked at the Creamery in Eagle Bend until it closed. He then moved to the Twin Cities area where he lived for four years before returning home and buying a farm. He and his wife, Karen, have been married for 52 years.


Life with Diabetes

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By: Jenny Steinkopf, RN, TCHC Care Coordinator

National Diabetes Month is observed every November to draw attention to diabetes and its effects on millions of Americans. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. It can cause blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and other health problems if it’s not controlled. One in 11 Americans have diabetes — that’s more than 29 million people. Another 86 million adults in the United States are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Rocking my insulin pump while paddle boarding.

Rocking my insulin pump while paddle boarding.

Encouraging, right? There are a lot of “bad” things about diabetes, but today, I want to share a “good” thing related to diabetes. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the best I have experienced in my life. You see, I am one of those statistics. I am the one in eleven. I have a high risk for blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and all sorts of other problems. I have diabetes.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was nine years old. No, my parents didn’t feed me too much sugar. I didn’t eat too much candy (although I probably ate my fair share…). I was an active kid. There was nothing I or my parents could have done to prevent it. But it happened, and it changed our world. The Tri-County Health Care team had their work cut out for them, but Dr. Lamberty, Jackie Vandermay, Lynae Maki and Sue Sigardson (physician, nurse, diabetes educator and dietitian at the time) were our saving grace as they taught my parents, siblings and I about diabetes and how to manage it.

Counting grapes, weighing meat, giving myself shots, measuring cereal, poking my finger with a needle and seeing the doctor frequently became all too familiar the summer before I started fourth grade. The next summer, my parents suggested I go to Camp Needlepoint, a camp they had heard about for kids with diabetes.

My cabin when I was a camper-I'm in the bottom, right hand corner in the tealish colored shirt.

My cabin when I was a camper-I’m in the bottom, right hand corner in the tealish colored shirt.

Camp Needlepoint was like heaven on earth for a kid with diabetes. It wasn’t just kids with diabetes, but many staff members had diabetes as well, including the counselors, doctors and nurses. I not only had peers with diabetes, but saw people older than me living with this crazy disease. One of my favorite parts about camp was the morning routine, which included breakfast followed by flag pole announcements. These weren’t just any announcements. They were very important ones, such as a counselor proudly announcing, “Jessica in Cabin 5 gave herself her own shot for the very first time this morning!” and everyone would yell, clap and cheer as if the Twins had just won the World Series.

The American Diabetes Association website states, “The purpose of Camp Needlepoint is to provide a fun and safe camping experience for children living with diabetes. We want to give kids the opportunity to meet other kids just like them as well as help them gain confidence and independence in managing their diabetes.” Camp Needlepoint does this like nobody else can. It was a place where it wasn’t abnormal to poke my finger to check a blood sugar, count my carbohydrates and take a shot before lunch because everyone at Camp Needlepoint did that! Activities, meals and snacks weren’t changed because a “diabetic kid” was there. I didn’t feel alone because everyone there knew what I dealt with on a daily basis. The week started out with a bunch of strangers and within a week, I had found a new family I didn’t know I needed. I was a “Trailblazer”, which included all kinds of fun and adventures. We played games, did arts and crafts, went hiking, swimming, kayaking, horseback riding and all sorts of “normal” kid stuff. We even did an overnight camping trip as a cabin that included sleeping in a tent on the beach along the St. Croix River.


Me as a counselor, top left

I returned to Camp Needlepoint as a CIT (Counselor in Training) and Counselor when I was in high school. There I had the privilege of encouraging young girls in their independence and confidence in managing their diabetes. Camp Needlepoint creates a comradery that friends, family and health care providers simply cannot provide.

Living with diabetes is not always fun and there are some “bad” things associated with it, but much of life is all in our attitude and perspective. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to go to Camp Needlepoint to help me see some good come from what often seems like a bad thing. To celebrate National Diabetes Month, tell someone about Camp Needlepoint! You never know when there might be a nine year old girl with diabetes looking for a place to feel like a “normal” kid.

To learn more about Camp Needlepoint click here…

To learn more about Tri-County Health Care’s free, monthly diabetes support group click here