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

How my mom taught me to be a good Care Coordinator

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By: Jenny Steinkopf, RN – Care Coordinator

Care Coordination is one of the newest programs at Tri-County Health Care. Our goal is to provide timely, patient-centered care, improve the quality of health care and encourage patient participation in this team approach to individualized care. As one of three coordinators, I work with the group to continue to find the best way to raise awareness and make this program successful for patients and staff.

A Care Coordinator partners with patients to better manage their health care needs. They are your “go to” person to help with various things such as understanding your condition(s), answering your questions, navigating the complex and sometimes confusing health care system, choosing a specialist, accessing services or resources and encouraging you to work on and reach your goals.

mom and vivLooking back, I had the perfect example of a care coordinator before I even knew what care coordination was. My mom, along with probably yours, has perfected this model of patient-centered, individualized, holistic care. Moms have that knack for knowing everything about anything. Who else can keep track of everyone’s schedules and know something is wrong before you even say a word? She’s just that good and knows you that well.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes the summer before fourth grade. That summer, my mom could tell you my medication doses, last lab results, what dropped my blood sugars, signs I would show if my blood sugar levels were low and so much more. I remember going back to school that fall and she was the one to educate my teachers, bus driver and friends’ parents on this disease that turned our world upside down. She was my advocate and was willing to do whatever it took to ensure I was as healthy as possible. My mom knew the value of being proactive with this chronic disease. She knew by focusing on preventive care, we were preventing emergency room visits, hospitalizations and major complications down the road. My mom helped me, but it was still my body and I was always responsible for my choices. My health care team and my mom could set me up for success, give me the right tools and encourage me, but I was ultimately the one to determine my success in managing my diabetes.

Jenny's Mom & Her

Jenny and her mom

Jeffrey Brenner, a doctor in New Jersey who cares for his patients with a similar model, says it brilliantly, “People are people, and they get into situations they don’t necessarily plan on. My philosophy about primary care is that the only person who has changed anyone’s life is their mother. The reason is that she cares about them, and she says the same simple thing over and over and over.”

I don’t claim to have all the answers, or a magic wand to fix all your problems (I wish I did!), but I do know that being proactive and shifting our attitude to prevention can pay off in the long run. Let’s not wait to see the doctor until we’re sick, but do it to prevent the sickness. I want to know my patients and what motivates them to achieve their goals, whether it’s related to medications, diet, activity or simply showing up to an appointment.

Little things make big things happen! We often set lofty goals in regards to our health, although we all know that there is reality and sometimes, a really big gap between the two! I want to help you build a bridge and take small, simple steps to get closer and closer to your goal. As a care coordinator, I’m not your mother, but I do care and will tell you those simple things over and over and over in hopes that I can help you be the best you possible. You can thank my mom.