Epi DeJesus was diagnosed with diabetes on the first day of his retirement.
The news didn’t sit well. He was in denial.
He had recently seen his family physician of 30 years, Dr. George Valko at Jefferson Family Medicine Associates, who conducted a complete physical, including a blood test and A1C test to measure his blood sugar levels.
After that, on his first trip to the pharmacy, he declined to get his diabetes medication prescription filled.
“I blocked out the diagnosis,” Epi says. “The pharmacist handed me my usual medications and then two more. My first instinct was, ‘these aren’t mine.'”
He eventually called Dr. Valko and scheduled an appointment to discuss his diagnosis.
“It was the first time I understood the seriousness of the situation,” Epi explains. “I wasn’t borderline diabetic or prediabetic, I had it and had to change my life before I felt the consequences.”
The doctor handed him a flyer for DISH (Diabetes Information and Support for Your Health), a diabetes support program run out of the practice.
Having just beat prostate cancer and looking forward to his retirement, Epi wasn’t ready to confront another illness, especially a chronic one like diabetes that requires constant attention.
As he slowly came to terms with his diabetes diagnosis, Epi began taking his medication and managing his diet. He also started to attend DISH.
The program offers patients access to a physician, pharmacists, nutritionist and a diabetes educator in one room at one time, every Friday morning at Jefferson Family Medicine Associates in Center City Philadelphia.
This shared-medical appointment model has been gaining popularity as it allows patients to see their key care providers in one visit, making it convenient and making patients better able to manage their diabetes, with all the appropriate support systems in one place. A weekly guest speaker also educates the patients on diabetes management, including proper nutrition, managing stress, medication and exercise.
“As I began to attend more and more, I realized I wasn’t alone in this fight. I had my care team, along with the other patients I had befriended. We all became supporters and champions of one another,” says Epi.
“That’s the miraculous thing about this program. We help them, as experts in our field, but the patients really end up helping each other as much, if not more,” says Victor Diaz, MD, leader of the program.
After the disgust and anxiety passed, Epi started reading more about diabetes.
He learned that developing diabetes after surgery is not uncommon, and that diet was critical to controlling the condition.
Epi started to take an active role in his own care – gone were the meats and carbs, replaced with lots of whole grains, brown rice, chicken and fish. He keeps meat and eggs to a minimum. And he no longer eats sugar cereal.
“DISH is a place that I can come and share and reflect on my journey with diabetes,” he says.
He stays active chasing his four-year-old twin granddaughters.
Last summer, Epi and his wife also became involved in the health mentors program at Jefferson, educating future physicians and healthcare professionals by sharing the patient’s perspective.
They share their story with pharmacy, medical, physical therapy and biochemistry students. The experience teaches the students to work in teams and to have empathy for the patient. They also spoke in front of the class, each sharing their medical past in order to educate the students.
As lifelong Jefferson patients, they are happy with their care and happy to give back.