Several years ago, Larry Fletcher faced numerous health issues. Living with diabetes and a survivor of both a stroke and open-heart surgery, he was unable to do tasks most of us take for granted.
“If I dropped something on the floor, I’d have to hold onto the wall to lower myself down, then crawl over to where it was and use the wall to help me get back up again,” he recalls.
But then he joined the Diabetes Self-Management Program at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Stephenville, the only program of its kind in Erath County. Working with a team of diabetes educators and registered dietitians, participants learn about the diabetes disease process, meal planning and the importance of physical activity. They’re also informed about medications, blood glucose monitoring, and chronic and acute complications.
“Our program includes the patient as part of the treatment team and helps to equip them with knowledge and awareness of how to manage diabetes,” said Ellen Wells, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. “Effectively managing diabetes can help a person live a long and healthy life.”
The program has been recognized by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) for providing high-quality education services to people in Stephenville and surrounding communities. To achieve recognition, programs undergo a certification process to ensure national standards for diabetes self-management education programs are met.
“Larry has been part of our program for nine years now, and we are proud of him and the many positive changes he has made over the years,” Wells said. “His blood sugar is under control, he is at a healthy weight, and he stopped smoking. He really cares about his health.”
Consultations at the beginning and end of the series assess a patient’s specific needs and set personalized goals for incorporating program elements into daily life. Services include:
- Group and individual counseling for Type 1, Type 2, gestational or pre-diabetes
- Instruction in blood sugar monitoring and managing medications
- Personalized nutritional counseling to fit different tastes and lifestyles
- Education on how to detect and prevent diabetes-related complications
- Exercise, stress management and education
- Monthly support group meetings for patients and their families
The support group meets the second Thursday of every month and is led by Texas Health dietitians Laurie Lively and Ellen Wells. They often invite physicians, pharmacists and other health-care professionals to address topics of interest to people with diabetes, such as eye care, foot care, stroke prevention and medication management. Some meetings even include food prepared by the dietitians or Food Preparation and Meal Management students at Tarleton State University.
Fletcher has been a member of the support group since its genesis in 2009, and it was there in October 2014 that he heard a presentation about the hospital’s new Better Breathers Program, which is not affiliated with the American Lung Association’s Better Breathers Club. The Stephenville program is designed to help those living with chronic heart and lung diseases, such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, asthma and other conditions. These conditions can affect people with diabetes like Fletcher, who decided to try the program and got hooked. “They’ve helped me so much,” he says. “I go three times a week. A few of us meet there and walk together for about a mile, and then we use the cardio machines and lift weights.”
The program begins with outpatient sessions that are held three days a week for four to six weeks. During this period, the program combines education, therapeutic exercises and functional activities. The team assists participants to cope with and understand their disease process, empowering them to once again function independently. The focus is on improving breathing, monitoring symptoms, exercising with supervision, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet.
After that initial period, participants move to a maintenance phase, in which the program is tailored to each individual, with the emphasis on healthy living.
Fletcher, who will turn 70 this month, has been a model participant, according to Brian Andrews, director of cardiopulmonary services at Texas Health Stephenville and head of the hospital’s Better Breathers Program.
“He has overcome a lot,” Andrews says. “He still has some paralysis from his stroke, but we did a lot of balance work with him. He puts in more work than most, and is here for over an hour every time. He walks, uses the elliptical and stair-climbing machines, rides the stationary bike, and works out with weights. His abdominal strength is remarkable.”
Andrews says Fletcher was hesitant to join the program at first because he already had a gym membership elsewhere. “But now he says he’s doing so much better than he was working out on his own,” Andrews adds. “The improvements in his strength are really incredible.”
With a physician’s referral, the Better Breathers team of trainers helps establish a personalized program to meet the specific needs and goals of each participant.
“And whenever we have a new problem, they help us work through it,” Fletcher says. “Most of us are older, and we get a lot of aches and pains, but they always help us with them. I’ve seen them help a lot of people.”
He says both the diabetes and exercise programs helped him get back to living. His 15-year-old grandson now spends every summer with him, something Fletcher says never could have happened before. “We rent a cabin, and we go to a family reunion together,” he says. “I’m looking forward to him getting his driver’s license.”
Fletcher says he also enjoys the social aspects of the program, and a few of the members get together on their own time.
“The diabetes and Better Breathers programs are wonderful, and they’re something every community should have,” he says. “They’ve done wonders for me, and I’ve seen them help a lot of other people, too.
“It’s really incredible that a hospital would offer services like this, instead of just treating sick people.”