By Katie Stancombe
INDIANAPOLIS – Nearly a decade ago, Indiana State Rep. Vanessa Summers walked into her doctor’s office for a regular check up. She left as a newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetic.
“I didn’t get scared until I was there for three hours,” said the Indianapolis Democrat. “He was trying to figure out what I needed and how much insulin to give me. Then I had a crash course on shots, and I was sent home with some needles and some saline solution to practice.”
Immediately, her life changed. Now dependent on insulin for survival, Summers needed to take four shots of insulin per day.
“With a little weight loss and a little exercise I was able to shoot that down to one, 24-hour-shot,” she said. “But I still have a long way to go.”
As an advocate for herself and Hoosiers alike, Summers is spearheading a summer study committee dedicated to tackling the issue of diabetes in Indiana. The committee met Wednesday at the Statehouse to begin discussing how to address the growing problem of diabetes in Indiana.
The Indiana Department of Health found that more than half a million Hoosiers suffer from some type of diabetes. Even more don’t even realize they have it.
Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the state and since 1999 has risen from about 7 percent of the population to nearly 11 percent in 2014.
“The numbers are absolutely staggering,” Summers said. “We know that nationally there are 26 million diabetics, but there are 86 million pre-diabetics. And nine out of ten of them don’t know it.”
Pre-diabetes means that an individual’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal – but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. It can lead to type 2 diabetes, however it can be prevented through behavioral changes that include diet, exercise and education.
“I know that if you put 150 minutes of exercise in your life, which is not even seven days a week, and you eat properly, then you are going to ward off the onset of type two diabetes,” Summers said.
For her, this is something she continually works at. She just wishes others would do the same.
“Our people are comfortable with this condition,” Summers said. “They’re so used to having a family member who has lost a limb or an eye. Somehow we’ve got to be able to agitate them and get them to take care of themselves.”
As possible solutions floated around the conference room Wednesday, one theme continued to surface – education.
Dr. Jasmine Gonzalvo, diabetes educator and clinical pharmacist specialist at Eskenazi Health, said common sense diabetes education is critical for newly diagnosed patients.
As someone who works daily with Hoosiers who develop diabetes, Gonzalvo said self-management education is necessary for those who truly want to pursue a healthier lifestyle.
It’s not easy, she said. Someone who is diagnosed with diabetes has to learn 150 new things to learn in order to manage the condition effectively.
“I have pre-diabetes and am at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes,” she said during her testimony. “I work incredibly hard to prevent or delay my chances of progressing to type 2, although I’m not sure I would even be aware if it weren’t for what I do professionally on a daily basis.”
Several more doctors, representatives and patients testified with ideas and possible solutions for Indiana’s diabetes epidemic – but with no concrete plans moving forward.
Summers hopes these efforts can make positive, lasting changes for Hoosiers in the future.
“Let’s just do something,” she said. “Everybody has got to stop thinking about their own individual interests and what is the best for the people in the state of Indiana.”
Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.