Diabetes EXPO Paves the Way to Healthy Living
Cinde Vadnais (left) and Molly Duerr of ADA.
A diabetes diagnosis can really ambush someone who has no family history of the disease. Cinde Vadnais, however, had a father and a brother with type 1 diabetes. So when she started drinking lots of water to slake an unquenchable thirst, she quickly realized what lay in store.
Yet Vadnais, 50, who was diagnosed with type 1 more than 20 years ago, says growing up around diabetes wasn't much of an advantage when it came to day-to-day management of her own disease. It's hard to understand how to control diabetes just by watching someone else, she says, because it differs so much from person to person.
Vadnais, who lives in Golden Valley, Minn., and is a recruiter for a real estate company, long managed her blood glucose by taking insulin shots four to five times a day. She considered moving to an insulin pump and took pump therapy classes at the International Diabetes Center in Minneapolis. But it wasn't until she visited her first Diabetes EXPO in 2007 that she found a pump that was right for her. "I got all my questions answered," Vadnais says.
Questions like hers are what draw thousands of people every year to American Diabetes Association EXPOs. The free health fairs, held in cities around the country, offer health screenings, cooking demonstrations, and ways to learn about diabetes and healthy living. The Minneapolis office of ADA will host its eighth annual EXPO this October. At last year's event, local health care professionals offered 12 different screenings to more than 5,000 people. They checked eyes and feet and administered A1C, blood glucose, and blood pressure tests. They measured cholesterol and body mass index, and screened for depression and sleep apnea. Services also included tests for hearing, kidney disease, and type 1 autoantibodies (which indicate an increased risk for type 1 diabetes). Participants could learn more about products and talk with diabetes educators. Vadnais even got a chance to reunite with the doctor who diagnosed her, Richard M. Bergenstal, MD, executive director of the International Diabetes Center and then president of ADA for medicine and science. He was Vadnais's endocrinologist for 10 years, as well as her father's and brother's doctor.
The event "really opens up a great dialogue between EXPO participants and their physicians," says Molly Duerr, an ADA associate director for the Minneapolis area, adding that what they learn at EXPO often prompts people to ask their doctors new questions. Vadnais is glad she did just that in 2007 and then went on the pump. "It has changed my life for the better," she says. "I have more control over my insulin." She has fewer highs and lows, and has lost 30 pounds.
Vadnais now volunteers at EXPO each year and makes sure to check out the latest technologies. She says her father, who died from a stroke in 2003, lived during a time when diabetes management often meant taking one shot of insulin per day and hoping for the best. Today, she benefits from pump technology and is thinking about using a continuous glucose monitor.
Other EXPO participants may want to pick up nutrition tips or find out about programs to help their family cope with a new diagnosis. To address a broad range of needs, coordinators of the Minneapolis event created a "pathway" system last year that led attendees through the hall step by step based on their specific situations. Categories included prevention and prediabetes, the newly diagnosed, type 1, type 2, Latinos, and youth and families. "When you walk in, a lot of times, it's somewhat overwhelming," Duerr says. "We tailored this experience to give some sort of direction"
EXPO's benefits last well beyond a single day. Last year, participants in Minnesota could meet with a health coach at EXPO to set goals and identify changes to make at home. Those who signed up get follow-up e-mails with tips on diabetes prevention and management, information about ADA resources, and other suggestions for leading an all-around healthy lifestyle.