Back on Track With Diabetes

May 21, 2020

When Stacey Zegla was stricken with sudden, excruciating abdominal pain in November 2019, she thought her symptoms—identical to her husband’s a few months earlier—meant a copycat diagnosis of kidney stones. But a prompt workup in the Emergency Department at Pascack Valley Medical Center proved startling in more ways than one.

Blood tests and imaging scans showed Stacey, 48, was actually dealing with acute pancreatitis, a severe inflammation of the body’s insulin-producing organ. Worse, the lab work revealed blood sugar levels of 416 mg/dL, about three times higher than normal. This meant the longtime Park Ridge, New Jersey, resident and mother of one also had Type 2 diabetes.

The diagnosis, while dismaying, wasn’t a complete shock. Stacey’s father and grandmother had also faced the same disease, which affects nearly one in 10 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make or use insulin efficiently, and family history is one of its risk factors.

“I had been thirsty all the time for about a year, but I didn’t think anything of it because I was doing tons of yard work and walking every day,” says Stacey.

Chronic thirst is a top diabetes symptom, as is fatigue, frequent urination and increased hunger. “But the funny thing is, I didn’t eat junk food and wasn’t one for fast food. I loved pasta growing up and my favorite thing is mashed potatoes, but I don’t really drink soda. So while diabetes runs in my family, I didn’t really put two and two together.”

Life-changing Experience

Stacey decided to tackle her diagnosis head-on and rein in her astronomical blood sugar levels. Left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to a host of dangerous and even deadly complications, including damage to blood vessels, nerves, kidneys and eyes, along with slow-healing wounds and higher risks for lower limb amputations.

Her first task, however, was less lofty: rest—and lots of it. Over a six-day hospitalization at Pascack Valley, Stacey underwent continual blood tests and received insulin to lower her glucose readings. She also met with a clinician who would prove pivotal in her care going forward: Maureen Kane, APN, CDE, a nurse practitioner and certified diabetes care and education specialist at Pascack Valley’s outpatient Center for Diabetes, Nutrition and Metabolism.

“I didn’t get depressed or think, ‘Woe is me,’” recalls Stacey, a pharmaceutical sales coordinator. “I said, ‘This is the situation, so let me understand and learn from it.’ I wanted to do everything the doctors and nurses told me to. The whole experience has been life-changing for the better, because if I didn’t have pancreatitis, I’d probably still be walking around with high blood sugar.”

New Center Steps In

Launched in early 2019, the center includes not only Maureen, but also Medical Director Sameera Daud-Ahmad, M.D., nutritionist Meredith Yorkin, RD, and others who focus on helping patients with all types of diabetes, prediabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders and kidney disease. About 200 patients used the center in its first year of operation, adding up to more than 650 visits.

After Stacey’s hospital discharge, Maureen taught her about her disease, how to give herself insulin and how to use new technology known as a glucose monitoring sensor to keep close track of her blood sugar levels. Rather than pricking fingers multiple times each day to test a drop of blood, patients can use the wearable glucose monitoring sensor to read glucose levels using interstitial fluid just under the skin.

“It’s a life-changer, making living with a chronic disease a little bit easier,” Maureen explains.

As they do with all diabetes patients at the center, Maureen and Meredith also counseled Stacey on skills needed to live more healthfully, including meal planning and weight management. Together, they helped her set measurable goals that are re-assessed at every visit.

“We provide everything in one place,” Dr. Daud-Ahmad says. “On top of that, we offer community seminars and group classes. With more people being diagnosed with diabetes or dealing with obesity, centers like ours are becoming busier and busier. We hold their hand so they don’t feel lost in the process.”

Support Pays Off

With this support, Stacey has transformed a dire situation in a matter of months. Her blood sugar is under much tighter control with daily insulin therapy. She’s also losing weight and taking day-by-day measures to promote her overall health.

“Now I’m much more aware of what I’m eating and what’s going on in my body,” says Stacey. “I’m reading food labels and learning how the foods I eat have ramifications. Yes, I can still have pasta, but not a big plate. It’s all about portion size and control. This has been a good wake-up call.”

Maureen is impressed with Stacey’s rapid, steady progress. “What struck me about Stacey was her attitude. Besides being a little scared about her diagnosis, she was positive and motivated to make lifestyle changes,” she says. “Part of the reason I do this every day is seeing patients’ success. Stacey has taken the ball and run with it.”

The Center for Diabetes, Nutrition and Metabolism offers a comprehensive program to manage diabetes and weight concerns in one convenient location at Pascack Valley.

Dr. Daud-Ahmad practices in Emerson. To make an appointment, call 201-666-3900.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.