Community Health Mission fights “silent killer”
By John Newton
There's a good reason diabetes is known as a “silent killer”. Because its symptoms can remain hidden and undiagnosed for years, many diabetics are unaware they have the disease, especially if they are uninsured and don't get regular medical checkups.
It's estimated that between 70 and 80 million people in the United States have diabetes or are on the verge of developing it and the medical costs associated with its treatment are astounding. Because so many people are affected, the United States is forced to spend $174 billion a year treating diabetes?more than AIDS and all cancers combined.
For several years, Savannah's Community Health Mission (CHM), led by Dr. Miriam Rittmeyer, has partnered with drug companies like Pfizer and other agencies like the Coastal Georgia YMCA to help uninsured diabetics living in Chatham County to manage their conditions and improve their health.
“The YMCA not only provides us with space to conduct our diabetes classes but also offers our patients the free use of all its exercise and fitness facilities while they are enrolled in our diabetes classes,” Dr. Rittmeyer said.
Insulin is a hormone that converts sugar in the blood into energy. Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not have enough insulin or does not use insulin the way it should. In a person with diabetes, the blood sugar stays in the bloodstream and according to health and fitness expert Dr. Mehmet Oz, this excess sugar in the blood can cause severe problems throughout the body such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blindness, kidney problems, and loss of sensation in the feet and legs.
“ "Our blood vessels are very delicate," he says. "The excess sugar is like pieces of glass shard scraping at it. In severe cases, a diabetic's blood vessels look like bent straws that cut off blood flow to the legs. Diabetes causes scarring on the inside and that's something no doctor can repair.”
According to a recent survey, Hispanics are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. Nearly half of Hispanic children born in the year 2000 are likely to develop diabetes during their lives.
A person with diabetes may have no symptoms at all, but some common symptoms include: being very thirsty; being very hungry; having dry, itchy skin; urinating often; losing weight without trying; feeling very tired; losing feeling or having tingling in the feet; having sores that are slow to heal and blurry vision.
Last month, CHM started its latest diabetes management class, a 10-week program of medical education and life-style advice led by Dr. Anna Viseras, CHM Health Promotion and Education Programs Coordinator. The class meets for 1 and a half hours each Wednesday morning at the YMCA on Habersham Street.
Dr. Viseras reminded class members of the risk factors associated with diabetes: 1) Being overweight 2) a family history of the disease 3) High Blood Pressure 4) Low HDL (good) cholesterol and 5) Belonging to a high-risk ethnic group like African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
“We cannot change our genetics but our focus during these 10 weeks will be on those things we can change,” Dr. Viseras said. “ I am a passionate believer in the phrase "knowledge is power”. If we give people the knowledge and power to take control of their health, communities will be healthier and better prepared to face the challenges of life.”
Dr. Viseras also emphasized her appreciation for the Habersham YMCA staff, especially Audrey Rodriguez, who is the link between CHM and the YMCA as well as Bucky Johnson (President) and Aron Karpas (Habersham Branch Director). “They are providing a great help to the community allowing our low income and uninsured patients to meet there, as well as allowing them to use the facilities without charge,” Dr. Viseras said.
A special highlight of each 10-week course is the graduation and awards ceremony.
The Community Health Mission, located at 310 Eisenhower Drive, offers free primary healthcare to 6,000 uninsured residents of Savannah and has several bilingual staff members available to interpret for patients who speak limited or no English. For more information about CHM or to enroll in a future diabetes control class, please call 912-692-1451.