“It scared the hell out of me.”
That’s how Larry Betsinger remembers feeling when he was diagnosed with diabetes.
Like many people, Larry gained weight as he aged. Every birthday meant a few extra pounds. Then ... climbing cholesterol numbers. Then ... increasing blood pressure.
But it was his dangerously high blood sugar that shocked Larry into reality.
“My doctor looked at me and said, ‘Larry, you’re now officially a diabetic.’”
It took a moment for those words to sink in. Then, Larry asked his doctor one question.
“Can I fix this?”
Yes, you can fix this, his doctor said. If you’re willing to work hard. If you’re willing to make changes. Yes, you can fix this — if you’re willing to commit to a healthier lifestyle.
“Yes, Larry. You can fix this.”
Larry’s doctor recommended a Mercy Health Coach: a health care professional who would partner with Larry to help him fully understand his condition and how to make lifestyle changes to improve it — and stand by him as those changes took place. The Mercy Health Coach program allows patients to learn about wellness challenges at a natural pace, while Health Coaches explain strategies for dealing with those challenges in the same way. Visits are relaxed and not strictly timed, either by clock or by calendar.
Larry’s Mercy Health Coach is Debbie Northfield, R.N., who admitted that Larry was “very apprehensive at first. He was worried about the potential complications of his diabetes,” she said. “For our first meeting, calming him down was the big thing. Then it was about explaining how diabetes is controllable.”
“I was very fearful,” agreed Larry. “I was upset by the whole thing.”
But by his second visit, “He really started getting into it,” said Debbie. “And then, Larry just took off! He was so enthusiastic!”
Larry credits Debbie for sparking that enthusiasm. “She made me believe that I could do it, that I could control my blood sugar and control my weight, and she did that by dealing with me logically, by explaining the numbers,” he said. A retired bank executive, Larry understands numbers. “I’m a numbers person,” he said. “Numbers always tell a story.”
Debbie explained to Larry the numbers that were affecting his health: blood sugar numbers — and how they were affected by carbohydrates in Larry’s diet.
“This is about giving a patient information and letting them decide what to do to change their life,” Debbie said. “With Larry, we chronicled everything he put into his body, and then talked about what he was willing to change.”
By treating a limited number of patients, Mercy Health Coaches are able to maintain closer relationships with them. Debbie sees about 25 patients a month, and some are more involved in managing their own health than others. But Debbie wasn’t prepared for Larry’s level of dedication to becoming healthy.
“He brought me this intricate log of his blood sugar counts,” she said in amazement. “This long spreadsheet that he created himself. And it was just eye-opening for both of us.” Larry freely admitted (with a laugh), “Whenever I commit to something, I’m known for overdoing it.”
After seeing the direct relationship between eating a meal high in carbohydrates and having a high blood sugar level, Larry started modifying his diet. “Before I started paying attention, probably 90% of what I ate was carbohydrates,” he said. “Breads, pastas ... I loved them, and I still do. And I didn’t give them up. I just reduced the portion sizes.”
Larry estimates that he cut his carbohydrate intake by two-thirds while maintaining a regular exercise routine, which included working with a personal trainer, bowling and golfing. “And he just started dropping weight!” Debbie said. “He was so proud!”
A tall man of 6' 4", Larry began modifying his diet when he weighed about 315 pounds. A little more than a year later, he’d lost 90 of those pounds. “It got to the point where I actually had to start taking in between 300 and 400 extra calories a day, because I didn’t want to lose any more weight!” Larry exclaimed, now comfortable at about 225 pounds — and with healthy blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.
While proud of his success, Larry is quick to share credit with his Mercy Health Coach. “I probably never would have believed I could do it without Debbie,” Larry said. “I was absolutely convinced it was impossible for a 73-year-old man to lose 90 pounds. Debbie convinced me that I could, and once I believed that I could, I did. I set goals and I worked toward them. And Debbie gave me so much encouragement along the way ... she’s probably the nicest person I ever met.”
From Debbie’s point of view, Larry is “friendly, warm and easy to work with. He’s done so great. We’re both just thrilled with his results.”
Debbie stressed that although Larry is considered a “graduate” of the Mercy Health Coach program, the coach-patient relationship never really ends. “He’s always welcome to call or stop by for a visit.” And Larry does.
“They’re all so pleased any time I visit,” he said. “They clap!”
It’s that kind of encouragement that makes the Mercy Health Coach program work — for both the patients and the coaches.
“I love what I do,” said Debbie. “It’s so very, very satisfying. I’m helping people learn things they can do to make their lives better.”
Every day in every way.