I recently shared my learnings from the diabetes patient experience program I attended at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Miami. Lori Kuzma, Executive Associate in the Sanofi US Diabetes Patient Centered Unit, is one of my colleagues who also attended the program. She has been with Sanofi US for 22 years, first in Research & Development, then moving into sales and marketing. Like me, she experienced a dramatic shift in perspective as a result of the in-depth, hands-on diabetes lifestyle training we received in the DRI program. Along with our team of roughly 45 associates, Lori got a taste of what it’s like to live with diabetes.
Lori’s husband, Steve, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in May 2011 at the age of 48. “It came at us right out of the blue,” she said. “He had no clue. He had gone to the doctor for a routine exam, and they did some blood work. The blood work revealed that his A1C was 13 percent. When we got the call, we were both in shock. It caught Steve by such surprise that he actually broke down and cried because he thought he was going to die. I remember thinking that our entire life was about to change and we were not going to be able to enjoy the same things as before. It was overwhelming.”
One of Lori’s biggest challenges in caring for her husband post-diagnosis was communicating the seriousness of the condition. Lori felt her husband was not making his health a priority. “My husband would rather help others first, and then care for himself last,” she explained. “Steve is the primary caregiver for his father who is elderly and dealing with some major health issues of his own. I keep trying to reinforce to Steve that, if he doesn’t take care of himself first, he’s not going to be of any help to his father and his father needs him. I need him. He has a hard time understanding how his health plays a part in that.”
Since participating in the patient experience program, Lori believes she has a much better sense of how overwhelming living with diabetes can feel. “There’s so much you have to remember,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling. The doctor tells you that you have diabetes, may hand you a glucose meter along with a few educational handouts, and then sends you off to manage on your own. He may encourage you to sign up for diabetes education, where you’re expected to absorb all the information about making healthier food choices, counting carbs, the importance of exercise and the possible complications – all within nine hours of group instruction. It’s so much to grasp when you’re still trying to accept the fact that you have diabetes.”
Lori feels she has more compassion for her husband’s situation now. “The program allowed me to walk in his shoes for a few days and I can honestly say I have a much clearer idea of what he’s going through,” she said. “I think I’m more empathetic now versus constantly nagging and pleading with him to take care of his health. It’s made a world of difference.”
Now Lori says they take a team approach to caring for Steve’s health. “When I came home from Miami, I actually sat down with him and we tested his blood sugar level together,” she said. “I told him we would do this together instead of me constantly harping at him about testing and what he’s eating. If he’s having a really bad day, I try to motivate him, and we try to figure out together what’s causing the high blood sugar and what adjustments he needs to make. I feel more like a coach to him.”
This approach seems to have helped, according to Lori. Steve has enrolled in a wellness program, where he watches what he eats and measures his portions. “When we go to the grocery store, we go together,” she said. “We look at the food labels and compare products to see what the best food choices are for him. We’ve learned we can still enjoy some of the things we did before; we just have to learn how to manage it. We still have a long way to go, but it’s definitely better than where we were a few months ago.”
Despite the challenges, Lori still finds reasons to smile. “I live for football and I love my Pittsburgh Steelers,” she said, “but probably the most important thing is my family. My family is everything to me, which is why Steve’s health is such a priority. I want him to stay well so we’re together for a long time.”
I find it heartwarming that Lori and Steve are working together as a team to help Steve manage his diabetes. I suspect that shared experience has made all the difference. My thanks to Lori for sharing her story.
All the best,