Eating His Way to Better Diabetes Control
The nurse who checked his blood pressure at the community health fair looked worried. She called over a colleague to verify the numbers. She tested it again with a different device. But the sky-high blood pressure reading was correct.
“She asked me if I took my medicine that morning,” Dickens Saintus, 68, recalls. “But I didn’t even know that I was sick.”
Alarmed, Saintus headed straight to NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, where clinicians treated his high blood pressure. That’s when he also learned that he had high cholesterol and diabetes. “I was in shock. I didn’t have a regular doctor, and I knew nothing about diabetes,” he says.
Saintus started seeing a primary care physician at Kings County and was put on medications to help him with his health conditions. During one of his visits, a nurse invited him to take part in the hospital’s Diabetes Self-Management Education Program, a series of six classes that helps patients live well with diabetes.
The program is offered in three languages: English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole. So Saintus, who is originally from Haiti, signed up to take classes in his native language. Each week, he learned about how taking small steps to eat better and move more can improve his health.
Saintus was used to adding several spoons of sugar to his coffee and having large plates of meat and rice for dinner. He soon came to see how such habits stood in the way of him feeling better, and used what he learned to make small changes in his diet. He started to pay attention to nutritional labels in the grocery store and passed on dessert platters at family gatherings. But he also found ways to still enjoy the foods he loves. “It’s all about moderation and healthy portions,” says Saintus. “I used to eat mountains of rice, for example. Now I eat less rice, and mountains of salad instead!”
When things got tough, Saintus leaned on other participants and program staff for support. “Attending the classes with patients like me made me realize I wasn’t alone. And the genuine concern by the staff helped me keep going. It’s more than just a job for them, they’re really invested in your success,” he says.
Since completing the diabetes education program, Saintus has better control of his blood sugar levels and is now taking a lower dose of his diabetes medication. To help stay on track, he comes to the hospital’s monthly support group meetings for those living with diabetes.
“I didn’t even know what having diabetes really meant. So I’ve been there, and I know it can feel like a lot. But all the care and support you need is right here at Kings County,” says Saintus.
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