November 6, 2019

KEY LARGO — More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, a group of diseases that affect how the body uses blood sugar.

There are 7.2 million Americans living with the condition who are undiagnosed, and one in three adults are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

It is a nationwide epidemic and more resources need to be devoted to preventing the condition or better managing it, according to the American Diabetes Association.

A nurse takes a blood sample from a patient.

The good news is that diabetes, regardless of type, is manageable, according to certified diabetes educators Clair Hefner and Courtney Dorchak of Mariners Hospital in Tavernier.

“This is a manageable condition,” Hefner said. “It involves daily management and people need to know better health choices and exercises.”

Hefner and Dorchak offer community meetings as part of Mariners Hospital’s Diabetes Support Group program every other month to help patients and their families learn how to live with diabetes. They are also getting the word out because November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day.

“We invite experts to our meetings to help people learn how to live a healthier lifestyle. We empower our patients and give them the tools they can apply right away,” Hefner said.

Dorchak is now offering suggestions on how to steer toward healthier eating options during the holidays and while traveling, times when people are susceptible to gaining weight.

“Being diagnosed with diabetes is overwhelming and people may initially struggle with nutrition, medication management, understanding medication and timing and whether that affects food intake,” Dorchak said. “There are a few different types of diabetes and everyone is managed differently.”

Common symptoms are frequent urination, thirst, extreme hunger, fatigue, blurry vision, occasional weight loss, slow-healing sores and frequent infections.

But not everyone has symptoms, which is why the American Diabetes Association advises, “Know Your Numbers.”

The normal blood glucose after eight hours of fasting should be less than 100. An A1C is a more popular testing method that takes an estimated average glucose percentage over the past two to three months. This test can be used to diagnose diabetes and identify pre-diabetes, which raises the risk of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes means the body produces little or no insulin. It’s treated with daily medication and consistent diet. This condition affects every age, race, shape and color, with 40,000 people being diagnosed with it each year, according to the ADA.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, means the body doesn’t use insulin properly and may need medication or insulin to manage it.

It is important to diagnose and manage diabetes because long-term complications from the disease can include eye problems, kidney damage, and increased risks of dementia, heart disease and bone disease, among others.

Mariners Hospital, as the southernmost ADA-recognized diabetes self-management and education program, offers two outpatient options: the support group as well as an individually tailored 10-hour program that requires a prescription.

“A quick blood draw will tell you if you have diabetes,” Hefner said. “There’s an estimated projection that by 2060 there will be 60 million Americans living with diabetes. We have time on our hands to turn this around and we have to get the information out there.”

Free community health screenings offer glucose checks for the uninsured, she said.

Mariners Hospital is offering “Healthy Eating and Living with Diabetes during the Holidays” and a healthy potluck from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at in the main conference room at 91500 Overseas Highway.

For more information about Mariners Hospital’s diabetes services, call 305-434-1036. To learn more about diabetes, visit