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There are a million reasons to attend free diabetes education classes at Southeast Georgia Health System. “One million Georgians have diabetes, and over 30 percent are prediabetic. There are a lot of undiagnosed diabetics walking around,” says Sue Ullrich, MA.Ed., RN, CDCES. Ullrich coordinates the Health System’s Outpatient Diabetes Education Program. Why do so many of us have this potentially life-threatening disease? “It’s a lifestyle disease caused by obesity, diet and sedentary lifestyle. Age, family history, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol and ethnicity are also risk factors,” Ullrich says.
As a certified diabetes educator, Ullrich’s comprehensive knowledge helps participants understand the disease and guides them toward a healthier lifestyle. In the process, they gain more confidence and control over their health.
Walter Ogelsby can vouch for that. Ogelsby had been prediabetic for years and was increasingly bothered by numbness and tingling in his toes. “I was anxious about my future as an athletic race walker,” says Ogelsby, who, in his 70s, still regularly race walks. After taking the diabetes class with his wife, he gained “A clear-eyed vision of health; I learned how our organs function and that there is a simplicity at the core of it all. The course shifted my focus to proactivity.”
Ullrich’s sensible approach empowers participants like Ogelsby to take initiative. “Small gradual lifestyle changes are more successful. It’s a marathon not a sprint,” Ullrich says.
Ogelsby was already fit, but the class taught him to help his body function better. “Sue helped me understand the value of a glucose meter to realize more clearly what my body needs and doesn’t need. Now, instead of relying only on annual blood test results, I have access to daily blood sugar checks before and after meals. That opened a new world of understanding and provided relief from the ignorance of not knowing.”
He also learned to fine tune his habits. “I suddenly understood the importance of adjusting diet and exercise to my body’s needs to improve my quality of life.”
Though Walter Ogelsby remains prediabetic, he has halted the disease progression. His is just one of many diabetes education success stories. “Lifestyle changes have helped some people get off or decrease their diabetes medication,” Ullrich says.
Healthy nutrition plays a significant role in whether people develop diabetes, but Ullrich emphasizes moderation over deprivation. “Food is not the enemy. There are a lot of food myths surrounding diabetes, such as ‘Don’t eat white food,’ or ‘Don’t eat fruit.’ We focus on healthy eating – whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables – and appropriate portion sizes.” So, yes, grits could still be on your meal plan, just less frequently, and in smaller portions.
Diabetes can be daunting, but Ogelsby encourages people to take advantage of the support available through the Health System. “Diabetes is such a debilitating condition, but don’t be afraid of it. There’s no reason to be mystified.”
When Ullrich considers all of the Georgians “walking around” with prediabetes or diabetes, she reminds us that “Screening and education are so important – screening to determine if you have prediabetes or diabetes, and education to learn how to self-manage your condition. With education and support, you can be successful in meeting your goals to live a healthier lifestyle and have control over diabetes, instead of it controlling you,” Ullrich says.


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