May 20, 2012
Health screenings are an important part of preventive medical care. Not only are they an affordable and effective tool for early detection, but they can also serve as a safety net for patients in need of timely treatment.
Orange County resident Jon Smith (not his real name) discovered firsthand the importance of being in the right place at the right time when he attended a Fauquier Health community screening event last fall. That’s where he discovered his recently diagnosed diabetes was raging out of control.
“My blood glucose level had risen to 452 and I thought I was going to die,” Smith says. “At the time I was shaking and crying because I had read a lot about diabetes and I knew the number was not good.”
Smith, a teacher at Fauquier High School, saw an on-site physician during the Fauquier Health screening event, and was referred to Dr. Kevin McCarthy, an internal medicine physician with Piedmont Internal Medicine, for follow-up care.
Because Smith’s glucose level was dangerously high, Dr. McCarthy advised him to go to the emergency room right away. After a brief hospital stay, Smith’s blood sugar level was within the safe range for discharge. Once under Dr. McCarthy’s supervision, Smith started a new treatment plan to keep his diabetes under control.
“When diabetes is out of control, you feel horrible,” Dr. McCarthy says. “Your energy level is low and you experience excessive thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision and fatigue. Jon lost 30 pounds in a short period of time, but he didn’t have 30 pounds to lose to begin with, so he was feeling really bad when his glucose level was discovered.”
Dr. McCarthy says in addition to not feeling well, patients experience a broad range of health problems related to uncontrolled diabetes.
“It affects almost every aspect of the patient’s health, from their cardiovascular system to their neurological system to their kidneys. This dramatically increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, renal failure and nerve damage. That’s why we get so concerned about uncontrolled diabetes.”
In addition to insulin medication, Smith’s treatment plan included comprehensive diabetes education services from the Fauquier Health Wellness Center. The center’s program offers a free glucometer, some starter test strips and lancets; self-management training, including one-on-one sessions with a nurse and dietitian, plus eight hours of group classes; access to a diabetes support group that meets every other month; and insulin pump management.
“The Fauquier Health diabetes education program is extremely helpful in terms of initiating newly diagnosed patients into the world of diabetes,” Dr. McCarthy says. “It helps the patients understand the importance of monitoring their diabetes with frequent blood sugar checks, and encourages the patients to see their physicians every three months. Even when patients are doing everything right, the diabetes itself can change, so we recommend lab testing every three months to stay on top of the disease.”
With assistance from Dr. McCarthy and the Wellness Center staff, Smith says he was feeling completely healthy again within just a few short months.
“Dr. McCarthy really knows what he’s doing, and he always treats me with kind words and support,” Smith says. “He’s like a father to me. And the Wellness Center is the centerpiece of the whole diabetes program. It was a big factor in my recovery.”
Smith was especially impressed because as soon as he was admitted to the Fauquier Health emergency room after the health fair screening, someone from the Wellness Center stopped by to see how he was doing.
“That was amazing,” Smith says. “I never expected them to do that. But they have been like a family to me. In addition to providing diabetes information, they encourage me and communicate regularly with me, and I always feel good when I see them.”
“When Jon first came to see us, he was feeling terrible,” says Aren Dodge, diabetes educator with the Wellness Center. “But at Dr. McCarthy’s direction we were able to get him on insulin right away, and we went over the diet information and everything else about diabetes management. So he’s been doing great and his sugar levels are awesome now.”
Dodge pointed out that although Smith was feeling ill when he first came to her, “Most people do not have obvious symptoms with chronic diseases like diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure, which make screening and annual exams very important for catching and correcting problems early — before long-term damage results.”
Research shows when a diabetes patient is provided education and support, the outcome will be much better. “Knowledge is power, and the more you know about diabetes, the more successful you will be at managing the disease,” Dodge says. “With diabetes, you also have to be your own advocate and you have to find the right team of experts to help.”
In addition to finding the right physician, patients need helpful advice and tips. One of the first things Dodge recommends to patients is a gradual change toward healthier lifestyle choices.
“Making realistic changes and being consistent is the key,” Dodge says. “A lot of times, people will come in and they’ll make all these big, drastic changes, but it’s not something they can stick with forever. Instead of going overboard, we help them find a middle ground.”
Finding a middle ground is important advice because so many people in our community are afflicted with the disease.
“Statistically speaking, Fauquier County has a higher rate of diabetes than the national average,” Dodge says. “And just like everywhere else, the incidence of diabetes is increasing. According to the American Diabetes Association, if the current trends continue, anyone born after 2000 will have a 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime.”
Following the advice of Dr. McCarthy and the Wellness Center staff has enabled Smith to get his life back on track. And now that everything is going well for him, he wants to share his story.
“I am so thankful for Fauquier Health because the screening saved my life,” Smith says. “And I share this important message everywhere I go: Any time you hear about a free screening being offered, take it. Make yourself available, because it’s better to find a problem today and start working on it, rather than waiting until tomorrow, when it may be too late.”
• Those interested in finding a physician may call the Fauquier Health Physician Referral Hotline at 540-316-DOCS (3627)
• For those seeking a diabetes specialist, Fauquier County recently welcomed a new endocrinologist, Dr. Lida Tabatabaeian. Call 540-316-5940.
• For diabetes services at the Fauquier Health Wellness Center, call 540-316-2652 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.