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Mercy Diabetes Center teaches patients to live well with diabetes

Albert Mitchell — a Manhattan resident and city employee — knows all too well what it’s like living with a chronic disease; he was diagnosed with asthma at 22 years old. So when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a year ago, he and his wife, Jeni, couldn’t help but feel a little defeated.

“His mom is a diabetic, so I kind of thought for a long time he may have it,” said Jeni, who works for the Manhattan Emergency Shelter. “I think we just didn’t want to know because he already has a chronic health condition with the asthma, and then to be saddled with two just seemed overwhelming.”

For Albert, the first clue was when he started going to the bathroom more often — a classic sign of the condition. Then he participated in a health fair at his new job, and his blood work identified him as borderline for diabetes.

“Finally, Jeni made an appointment for me to see Dr. (Ryan) Knopp and I had some more blood work done. A few days later, the nurse called me,” Albert said. “She officially told me I had type 2 diabetes, and Dr. Knopp gave me a referral to Mercy’s Diabetes Center.”

Even though the results were not what they had hoped for, Albert and Jeni began working on their health plan right away.

“Before we went to the Diabetes Center, everything was just diet,” Albert said. “Then Jeni and I went to the first class, and they basically told us you don’t necessarily have to go on a diet, but you do need to do things in moderation.”

When Albert started his work with the Diabetes Center, he had high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. After attending his first class and confronting his official blood results, he made a profound decision — it was time to make changes and choose to live healthier.

“One really neat thing about working with Albert is that he really took to heart the things we taught him, and it has made a huge difference in his life,” said certified diabetes educator Jody Kenney, RN, BSN.

Offering group classes, individual appointments, and support groups, the Diabetes Center is part of a larger team — including primary care physicians and family members — that helps patients manage their diabetes. Kenney says they educate their patients first, and then empower each person to make healthy changes with that knowledge.

“The mission of our clinic is to reach as many people as possible. Research shows that with education, people can live healthier with diabetes,” Kenney said. “To be successful, it takes the exercise component, changes to meals, and sometimes medication.”

Over the course of several months, Albert worked with the Diabetes Center, his physician and Jeni to get his diabetes under control.

"My biggest takeaway from working with the Diabetes Center was how to make the right choices to eat. We are at the point now of really looking at labels at the grocery store. Even when I go out to restaurants, I count calories with my phone,” Albert said. “The education on food really opened my eyes.”

And according to Jeni, Albert hasn’t been the only one making changes.

“This whole process has really affected our family, too,” Jeni said. “We eat at home as much as possible, we are learning about better choices, and teaching our children good portion sizes. We don’t need as much food as we think we do.”

Since his diagnosis, Albert’s transformation has been amazing. In one year, he has lost 64 pounds by adding exercise to his daily routine. He has also greatly improved his blood pressure and cholesterol, and has been able to reduce the number of times he needs to check his blood sugar.

“Jody did tell me that since I am doing so well, it might come to a point where I need to only take my medication once a day. Keeping my diabetes in check and being educated on that has also helped with my asthma,” he said.

“My greatest success with all of this is my weight. I always said I needed to lose it, but when it happened, I was like ‘wow.’ I have noticed with the weight loss that I can work out now and not struggle. I have much more energy.”

And while no one wants a diabetes diagnosis, Albert knows that the information that comes with it can change people’s lives for the better.

“I would say if somebody has early symptoms of diabetes, then they need to get it checked,” Albert said. “It is better to know.”

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