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SXU Alumni Call Attention to Diabetes Awareness Month


Did you know that more than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, and 1 in 4 of them don't know they have it? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 84 million adults have prediabetes and 90% of them don't know they have it. With diabetes diagnoses having doubled in the last 20 years, it's important to understand the prevalence and impact. November is Diabetes Awareness Month across the country. This global celebration is intended to raise awareness about both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and the SXU community is encouraged to participate by inspiring others, educating peers and giving back. 

Just in time for Diabetes Awareness month, three SXU alumni who are all deeply involved in diabetes awareness had a chance reconnection at the Shannon Center. Kathy Styler '80, Jacob Sobeck '19 and Mimi Zaleski '90 are all nursing graduates and Shannon Center members, and they have a long history together. Styler and Sobeck originally met when Sobeck was a student and Styler was his school nurse. Diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, Sobeck had to learn how to understand and manage his diabetes. "Jacob demonstrated empowerment. Other students with diabetes diagnosis observed and would marvel at how he took care of what he needed to do," said Styler. Zaleski is connected to Sobeck as his diabetes pediatric nurse at Advocate Children's Hospital. "Jake has always worked hard to take care of his diabetes. He is passionate about helping and informing others," said Zaleski.  

The three alumni convey that becoming aware involves learning about the disease, its symptoms and management. "Knowledge, awareness and intentionality in the pursuit of health is vitally important and could minimize the occurrence of this disease," said Styler. "Diabetes Awareness Month is the time for celebrating and educating others on healthy lifestyle habits that include proper nutrition, physical exercise and promotion to obtain one's optimum health."

Understanding the types and characteristics of diabetes is significant. Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Diabetes occurs when blood glucose, the main source of energy, is too high. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose get into cells to be used for energy, but if the body doesn't make enough, glucose stays in the blood and doesn't reach the cells. High blood glucose levels can cause damage to the body in different ways. With type 1 diabetes, the body does not make insulin, as the immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not make or use insulin well.

Diabetes can be managed by following a meal plan, being physically active, checking blood glucose levels, taking medicine, and working with a health care team. "Imagine diabetes as a vehicle with the ability to proceed in the right or wrong direction. Those with the disease or at risk for it are the drivers," said Styler. Sobeck said "I think more than anything else, people should be able to know how to help a diabetic. Low blood sugar can be dangerous, so knowing how to spot the signs and symptoms and react by getting a fast-acting carb like juice can prevent the need for emergency treatment."

During November and every month, SXU's community of excellent nursing faculty and students advocate for diabetes awareness. SXU's School of Nursing and Health Sciences' program emphasizes the importance of supporting and assisting patients as needed. "The program prepared me to help newly diagnosed patients accept and adjust to the many lifestyle adjustments presented to them. I have listened and learned. I've cared for many children with diabetes, and each one has prepared me to better care for the next," said Styler.

 Zaleski credits SXU clinicals for helping her fall in love with pediatrics, particularly diabetes care. "I attended SXU nursing school 30 years ago, and I am so grateful that SXU helped mold me into the nurse that I am today. I am proud to have had Jake as my patient and I love that we are both SXU grads!" said Zaleski. Like Styler and Sobeck, Zaleski stresses the importance of having diabetes knowledge and knowing how to recognize and treat blood sugar issues. "It's an exciting time for diabetes because technology today is incredible and diabetes management has changed so much. We have many tools to ease the burden of this chronic disease and I imagine it will only keep getting better," said Zaleski.

 As a nurse on the Medical-Surgical and Trauma floor at Advocate Christ Hospital, Sobeck says having diabetes makes it easier for him to relate to his patients. When he is administering injections, he tells his patients he's been a diabetic for 15 years and has a lot of experience, which eases his patients' nerves and creates the ability to bond. Sobeck is grateful for his time at SXU, particularly for events like the Health Fair at the Shannon Center. "These events allowed me to work with people and educate them on diabetes. It's a great way to spread information to the community and help people," Sobeck said. His childhood nurses are certain he will excel at that. "Just as he expeditiously demonstrated to his classmates affected with diabetes over 10 years ago, he is now working in a field where he will lead. The nursing profession will benefit greatly with Jake's participation," said Styler.

 From SXU's nursing students and faculty to members of the Shannon Center, diabetes awareness is considered critically important, and as they continue to serve others, the nursing community urges all to become aware, knowledgeable and proactive.