By Barbara Gautreaux
Diabetes is ravaging America’s South and Louisiana in particular. The Gulf Coast is feeling the effects of a disease where high blood sugar can’t be controlled by the body’s ability to produce insulin. It is affecting the body’s organs, slowly leading to obesity and death and it is happening to some of the best people in the country, our brothers and sisters. Throughout Acadiana, families are asking what do I do now that I have diabetes? Can I still enjoy my way of life? Can I still eat the way I was raised?
Families here are learning the way to address their health concerns in the correct manner from a support group called “The Diabetic Kitchen.” They are learning to speak up about their illness and bring it out into the open.
Long-term diabetes can be controlled by medication along with a healthy diet and adequate exercise. But complications can arise if those diagnosed with the disease do not follow a set regimen. They can get by however, with a little support from their friends.
A Support Network Is Born
It is peculiar to Nathaniel Mitchell Sr. that the disease diabetes is treated by some of the public much as diseases such as AIDS or leprosy are sometimes perceived. “Most people tend to shy away from saying they have diabetes because of the stigma of ‘You ate yourself sick.’ We are trying to make it easier to say you have diabetes. You can’t be silent about this disease because it is killing us.” Two years ago Mitchell was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and his family thought he wouldn’t be able to live with the disease because of what he calls, “My hard head.”
Luckily for him, his cousin Ella Faye Jefferson is a registered nurse who began educating him and other family members on how to cook healthy, tasty meals in her own kitchen. “Her meals were gorgeous,” Mitchell brags, “and the same things I am used to eating. She would just curb it a bit. After two or three sessions the light came on and I thought to myself, we are in ‘The Diabetic Kitchen.’ The idea came to me and I knew I could do this.”
Mitchell has some experience teaching people about accepting a new way of life. He is a case manager and a diversion specialist with Louisiana’s 16th Judicial District Drug & DWI Court’s Juvenile program under the U.S. Supreme Court. He works rehabilitating young offenders in Iberia Parish. He has been a behavior interventionist with the Iberia Parish School Board and a Junior Warden in Corrections with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
After completing a four week training program at Iberia Comprehensive Community Health Center with other new diabetics, he asked those patients if they would like to keep meeting to learn more. They all said yes. Mitchell asked medical personnel to come in to answer questions, and got help from his cousin Jefferson (an IPSB nurse), Dr. Earl Washington, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Diabetic Educator Kaissy Hammer, Dr. Jose Mata and others. They meet every month at First United Methodist Church, 119 Jefferson Street, New Iberia to discuss diabetes during the holidays, label reading, setting goals, sex, eye care, feet care and many other topics pertaining to diabetes. “If it can reach me, as hard a head as I have, maybe we can reach others who are as confused as me about what to do,” shares Mitchell. “I have the advantage of having an RN at my beck and call whose knowledge can help me with any questions I have, but what if I didn’t have that?”
Bringing It Into The Community
The Diabetic Kitchen began in 2013 as a campaign to focus attention on diabetes in the community with a call to join, to donate and to stop diabetes. “Many people with Type 2 Diabetes can almost get off medication just with a proper regimen of exercise and healthy eating,” states Mitchell.
To promote exercise, The Diabetic Kitchen began organizing community events including three mile walks to get people excited about exercise. First up was a Pre-Father’s Day run/walk at West End Park in New Iberia June 15, followed by a Zumba Back-To-School fundraiser in New Iberia City Park with national recording artist Cupid, and the “Miracle Miles” Walk for a Cure for Diabetes Aug. 10 in Grand Marias. Nearly 100 men, women and children participated in the walk to raise money for children living with diabetes. “We had 100 people exercising and asking what we are going to do next?” says Mitchell. “Many of our walkers are elderly, however even if they don’t walk they are getting out and networking. It is a beautiful thing to see everyone participating together.”
Mitchell has hopes of filling football fields with exercisers to promote healthy living and to encourage exercising every day. There will be another community walk on Nov. 23 in New Iberia City Park beginning at 7:45 with registration, followed by prayer and warm up at 8:20 and the walk starting at 8:30 a.m. Donation is $10 for the American Diabetes Association. “The Diabetic Kitchen is also in the process of organizing a festival that same day at Bouligny Plaza starting at 10:30 a.m. called the Health Food Fest—Heart Healthy Meals only. Presentations and samples, will show an example of what is available. We are in Acadiana and we are at the center of Cajun and Creole cooking. We eat very well but not healthy.”
Mitchell now eats healthy. “I do it every day, cutting back here, adding something there.” Following a year of delicious, healthy eating, Mitchell has lost 61 pounds. “It really works and it is no big hassle. That is the thing that is most amazing to me. I am not really doing anything except embracing the eating healthy lifestyle.” Mitchell accepts his new lifestyle and says diabetes will not control him. “I am going to control it.”