More than 23 million people in the United States have diabetes. A chronic disease, it affects a person’s entire body—from heart to kidneys to eyes—and can lead to stroke, limb amputation and heart disease if left untreated. With more people learning every year that they, too, have diabetes, Weiss endocrinologist Renee Schickler, M.D., decided to take matters into her own hands.
For Dr. Schickler, people’s post-diagnosis health comes down to one thing: education. “The best way to manage diabetes is through education,” she said, standing in the Lakeshore Medical Center atrium the morning of Weiss’s first Diabetic Health Fair. Schickler organized the fair, which served as a prelude to a monthly “Diabetes Day” at Weiss.
Dr. Schickler said a large part of education means knowing available options. She called upon various drug companies, physicians and nutritionists to participate in the fair. It took place on March 25 in the Weiss lobby, and Dr. Schickler partnered with the Weiss Senior Center and Lakefront Medicine to make it happen. A dozen booths lined the room with information on medication, equipment, meal plans and exercise. “We need to get the information out to diabetics,” Dr. Schickler said.
Myldred Thomas, a long-time diabetic and South Side resident, travels north to Weiss multiple times a week for her treatments. During the fair, she sat in her wheelchair, sipping vegetarian lentil soup with her niece, Janet.
“Man, I cannot believe I like something healthy,” Janet said, taking a gulp of soup. A few feet away, Chef David Jenson, who runs a private catering firm, was preparing and serving cups of the soup to demonstrate a healthy recipe. “I never tasted it before,” Janet continued. “I never wanted to. It was just one of those things that I knew I didn’t like. You know how it is.”
But to Janet’s surprise, she did like the soup—very much—and so did Thomas. “Delicious!” Thomas confirmed, nodding.
“I didn’t think anyone would eat it,” Chef Jenson said. On the table before him was a giant vat of soup, surrounded by a colorful display of fresh ingredients: basil, lentil, garlic, cumin, parsley, tomato, carrots and coriander. “People are shy about lentils and anything that tastes healthy. But that’s a big fallacy—that (healthy) things have to taste bad.”
Across the lobby from Jenson’s very popular table, podiatry resident Robika Hondal sat at a table answering people’s questions about diabetes-related foot issues. “This is a great opportunity to educate diabetics about the importance of caring for their feet and the importance of check-ups,” she said.
After talking with Hondal, people made their way to tables with pamphlets on exercise techniques and others with colorful, pocket-sized blood sugar monitors spread out across them. Information was plentiful.
“We’re just trying to educate,” said Erin Jones, a representative from the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Aventis. She had participated in the fair after a request from Schickler.
Finally, at a long table at the back of the lobby, people could sign up for free health screenings, including blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. Two hours into the event, 49 people had undergone screenings, many saying they had never been tested before.
“It’s so nice that Weiss does this. A lot of people I know don’t even go to the doctor,” said Sophie Banks, a medical assistant on externship at Weiss. “People don’t have the money, and it’s really sad.”
As another assistant called people’s names, Banks, in blue scrubs, pricked attendees’ fingertips with a handheld glucose monitor. She needed a pinch of blood in order to check blood sugar levels. “Prevention is a key factor in maintaining health,” she said.
Diabetes Day at Weiss will take place on the third Thursday of every month (beginning April 15), from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Weiss lobby. For more information, visit the event listing on the Weiss calendar.