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.

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

Life have you running in circles? How to prepare 12 crockpot freezer meals in 75 minutes for under $100!

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By: Quinn Nystrom

Is your laundry list of to-do’s too much some days? For me, I’m a working woman and a graduate school student, I sit on multiple community board of directors, manage my diabetes and in my free time I like to see my family and friends. Most days, I just don’t have the time to prepare and cook a healthy, balanced meal for myself, let alone a family.

I have always had a hard time with preparing healthy, affordable meals that taste good. It’s always easier to go through the drive-thru and pick-up something fast because it is more convenient and I have nothing prepared in my refrigerator.

I arranged all of the items on my kitchen table right after I got home from the grocery store.

I arranged all of the items on my kitchen table right after I got home from the grocery store.

One day while we were talking, one of my friends suggested looking on Pinterest for crockpot recipe ideas. I hadn’t spent that much time on that seemingly trendy site so this was going to be a new experience for me. It was easy. All I did was type in “healthy freezer crockpot meals” in the search box and hundreds of recipes popped up for me.

I decided to give it a try. I devoted one Sunday afternoon to grocery shopping and then prepping all of the meals. Although the woman who wrote about it on her “New Leaf Wellness” blog site said it took only 75 minutes to prep the 12 crockpot freezer meals…it took me about two hours. I have to admit, I’m a beginner when it comes to cooking!

Another thing to note is she titled her post “Crockpot freezer meals from Costco (12 meals in 75 minutes!)”. I made the assumption I could get all my ingredients at Costco and that wasn’t true. I still had to go to the regular grocery store to get a handful of ingredients. My suggestion would be forget her title and just pick up the ingredients at your favorite grocery store. Her total grocery bill was $87 (excluding the seasonings) very similar to the cost of all my groceries.

My meals all packed up! I didn't use the labels that she blogs about, but instead used a permanent marker to label my bags.

My meals all packed up! I didn’t use the labels that she blogs about, but instead used a permanent marker to label my bags.

I enjoyed her blog. She did a great job of explaining everything and giving great meal prepping tips. Because of the suggestion from a friend, my openness to exploring Pinterest and my willingness to commit a Sunday afternoon to these meals, I now have a freezer full of healthy meals. I have loved putting them in my crockpot in the morning and coming home at the end of a workday to a home-cooked, HOT meal ready to eat. Most of the recipes make between four to six servings each and have made for great leftovers at work, saving me money and time not eating out all the time. Check it out, give it a try and let me know what you think of the recipes.

Don’t forget to check out our Tri-County Health Care Pinterest page for other recipes that I love! My criteria is that the meals are…

1. Easy to prep
2. Taste great
3. Make a healthy, balanced meal
4. And, last but certainly not least … Affordable

Quinn speaking at the Mall of America this past November for World Diabetes Day.

Quinn speaking at the Mall of America this past November for World Diabetes Day.

About the Author: Quinn is the Social Media Specialist in the Marketing Department at Tri-County Health Care. In her free time she enjoys traveling, hanging out with friends and family and serving on the Community Leadership Board for the American Diabetes Association. Since her diagnosis of type-1 diabetes at the age of 13 she has worked on the local, state and national level speaking about life with diabetes.

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.