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Learn about, get support for diabetes at Senior Center

August 15, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A retired nurse began the Diabetic Support Group at the Lehigh Acres Senior Center in 1996 after a regular conversation in the hospital was had as she helped a patient.

"It's my way of contributing, giving back from nursing. Nursing is a lifetime skill and it was rewarding for me and I like to reward back, give it back," Retired Nurse Sharleen Watt said.

The group began two years after Watt began working at Lehigh Regional Medical Center, which was named East Point Hospital at the time. She said the clinical manager asked if she would work with her to begin a diabetes support group.

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"I've always been interested in diabetes ever since nursing school when I began to understand the cellular implications of diabetes," Watt said. "Both of my parents developed diabetes in their later years. I felt it was important to me to do all I could do to prevent that from occurring in myself."

The support group began to provide a place where people can come and clarify information, ask questions openly, discuss medications, as well as improve personal chances against the chronic disease. Watt said it is important to talk about the meaning of having the chronic disease because an individual must manage and understand diabetes as it intensifies over time.

Discussions are had regarding the different types of diabetes, treatments, complications, watchful control, nutrition, dehydration, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.

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The support group meets on the third Thursday of every month, at 9 a.m. The Senior Center provides a free continental breakfast for all those that attend. Watt said it's a carefully planned continental breakfast suitable for those with diabetes.

"People from the community can come," Watt said. "We encourage people to bring neighbors and friends that they know that may have diabetes."

Watt said anytime that people with a shared diagnosis get together and exchange information it is extremely beneficial.

The next gathering will be held Thursday, Aug. 16.

"We are going to be looking at hypertension because it is the gateway between diabetes and cardiovascular disease," Watt said. "There is such a high association between the two diseases. They have a shared presence in individuals."

The gathering always includes a PowerPoint presentation.

"When I present for the group I bring a PowerPoint presentation each month," she said of the spotlight teaching portion of the gathering. "I write a newsletter every month that is shared with everyone. I provide a nutrition supplement every month because nutrition and lifestyle change is extremely important with the care of diabetes."

Joni Ferster joined the group some 20 years ago.

"It's been invaluable to me. I've had diabetes for 25 years. She (Sharleen) does a very nice newsletter with hints and suggestions. She does recipes," she said. "I have been going 20 years and I am still learning. Sharleen researches everything and it takes a lot of her time to do it. She puts it in layman's terms, so we can understand it."

Ferster said Watt helped her with the transition, knowing what to do with the insulin shots and low blood sugars.

"I don't know why more people don't take advantage of the group," she said. "You can't go anywhere and get that type of information."

Ferster said she has kept every single newsletter from the group, as well as the recipes.

"That is how valuable they are to me. It's better than any manual that you can find," she said.

Watt wanted to facilitate the support group to share her expertise on the subject.

"I have seen the patterns of medications change greatly. We have talked about the newer ways of treating diabetes. Changes in nutrition patterns that have been suggested. I've seen this very close alliance develop between the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association because there is a propensity towards cardiovascular disease in diabetes," Watt said.

Over the years she has also seen new technology and devices developed for diabetes.

Diabetes is frequently diagnosed in coincidence with another problem. She said an individual may visit the doctor because of a cold, or problem with their knee when the doctor decides to have lab work done.

"It is discovered coincidentally. Often what they find is people have had diabetes as long as 10 years before it ever comes to a diagnosis," Watt said. "That is something that the country is trying to change."

Part of that is through prediabetes, which means that an individual's glucose level is rising and staying a little higher than normal, more than 100.

The definition of diabetes, Watt said is when a patient presents on three separate occasions with a blood glucose level higher than 126.

The Lehigh Acres Senior Center is at 219 Plaza Drive. For more information, call (239) 369-5355.



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