Recently diagnosed with diabetes, a patient learns to manage his condition thanks to Horizon staff who are readily available online to help

Stewart Gilbert had a hunch that something was wrong. Over the years, a few blood tests detected some concerns with his sugar levels, which prompted him to watch his sugar intake.

But it wasn’t until recently that he learned that he is an “official” diabetic. And that diagnosis came in a big way.

In November 2020, Stewart experienced a stoke on his 68th birthday, and was rushed to Horizon’s Saint John Regional Hospital (SJRH) to receive the care he needed. The attending physician was the one to break the news to him.

A whirlwind of events

While hospitalized as a stroke patient, a chain of events led Stewart to receive the best care possible at the click of a mouse.

“They ran all kinds of tests and that’s when they’ve discovered I am a diabetic,” said Stewart. “But what made it all reassuring is that the doctor said I would be getting help to manage my diabetes, and that is how I was told about the clinic.”

Stewart was introduced to a friendly and informative team of diabetes educators from the Diabetes Education Centre at Horizon’s SJRH. There is no known cure for diabetes, however there are ways to manage the condition.

Diabetes educators help support people living with diabetes and prediabetes by working with them to set goals to improve their overall health and wellness. Nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, and other health care providers can help manage an individual’s diabetes through support and education via group classes and individual appointments.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant the clinic’s education classes were offered online, as one-on-ones or in small groups.

For diabetic patients, virtual care provides just as much support as in-person appointments would have. In Stewart’s case, most sessions were one-on-one, and he occasionally took part in education classes with other patients.

“Our virtual diabetes education classes are wonderful ways to make it convenient for patients to access our team of specialists,” explains Karla Price, a registered nurse and manager of diabetes education for ambulatory treatment clinics at Horizon’s SJRH and St. Joseph’s Hospital, also located in Saint John. 

“We are hearing so many positive comments about our online programs. People are embracing them and come together to share their experiences in adjusting their lifestyle such as changing eating habits. We work with patients to develop goals that are achievable for them.”

Virtual diabetes education classes are part of numerous, exciting virtual care options now available to Horizon patients, clients and their families.

“Although Horizon has been offering a variety of innovative virtual services for many years to patients in New Brunswick, the majority of them have required patients to go to their local hospitals to join classes such as this patient describes,” said Krisan Palmer, Horizon Virtual Care Manager and Clinical Lead. “Patients can now use their own devices at home to attend programs offered by many specialities for one-on-one patient consultations and group sessions. Virtual Care increases access to Horizon’s quality care and plays a pivotal role in enhancing our patients’ continuum of care, keeping them comfortable and safe in their own dwellings.”

The first day of class

In preparation for his first call with a diabetes educator, Stewart remembers setting up his computer at the kitchen table.

Moments before connecting to the online class, he quickly reviewed binders and books offered to him by the clinic. The printed material helped lay the ground rules and explained what he could or couldn’t do as a diabetic person.

Photo of patient Stewart Gilbert and Karla Price, a registered nurse and manager of diabetes education.

He was surprised to be greeted by the educator in a friendly and professional manner.

“She was fantastic, went through the instructions, was not overbearing, and had a great tone of voice,” said Stewart. “She simply shared her education with me and the other (patient) who was on that call, showed us how to control it with proper nutrition … the full gamut!”

Even though diabetes is a serious matter, the educator’s way to present suggestions was helpful.

“It was fun! I enjoyed every minute of it! We just talked, and I learned, and we even laughed at times,” said Stewart. “The (two educators) would offer suggestions, were never heavy-handed in their approach, especially since one of the first things I was told is that bacon isn’t good for you … but they made it fun!”

Living life as a diabetic

Much has happened since Stewart’s hospitalization almost a year ago.

“You first have to admit it that ‘I am a diabetic’ just like if you are a smoker, you would need to say, ‘I am an addict’,” said Stewart. “Then, the first thing that I noticed was that I lost weight. In fact, I lost over 10 pounds just by properly eating.”

When asked about his favourite snacks these days, Stewart says that he reaches for an apple in the evening and no longer craves a bag of chips. As well, he drinks less sugary drinks like orange juice and stays away from sweetened cereals. Occasionally, he will have bacon but in a smaller portion. Rather than having two burgers at a BBQ, he finds that one burger is now plenty.

Photo of patient Stewart Gilbert walking in a cemetery.

Stewart is also avid walker. 

“I always enjoyed walking and of all places, I find cemeteries are great places to walk because they are flat,” he explained. “I go to the graveyard two or three times a week, obviously when the weather cooperates, and make it a goal to walk 10,000 steps that I track on my wrist counter.”

Again, virtual care offered by diabetes educators helps motivate patients like Stewart to make lifestyle changes in a meaningful way. Stewart recommends others to get tested for diabetes, especially if it is already present in their families.

“On my paternal side, diabetes is rampant,” explained Stewart. “My father developed it at the age of 60, and I may have had it at that age as well, but I was not diagnosed until now.”

Support is an online meeting away with virtual education being offered to patients right after they are diagnosed.

“Virtual education is great, and it made me avoid some issues like parking at the hospital,” said Stewart. “A hospital is an inside environment where sick people are, so I enjoyed taking these classes from home while sitting at my kitchen table which was much, much better.”

When asked about his overall health to date, he added: “I’m happy. I feel good mentally and I feel I can control my diabetes as best I can. I accepted that diabetes is part of my life, and I give credit to the teachings of these diabetes educators.”

Photo of patient Stewart Gilbert.

More information about Virtual Care services can be found on Horizon’s website by clicking here.