- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Diagnosed in June, Darla Nash joined the many millions of Americans who face the daily grind, the persistent challenges and the often pesky puzzles of diabetes.

Some try ignoring the disease until it pounces with complications. Others deal with it in passing until problems begin emerging. Only a minority, albeit a growing one, responds the way Nash did after her diagnosis. She reacted as one would when a fire trips the alarm, with initial fear giving way to life-saving action.

“I was terrified,” the 61-year-old White Oak woman said. “It scared me and woke me up. I really had no choice. I settled within myself that this is what I have to do. I don’t want my diabetes to be out of control.”

And that’s where Nash’s story crosses paths with Linda M. Siminerio, director of the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Institute.


Soon after her diagnosis, Nash signed up for diabetes education classes, covered by insurance, at UPMC McKeesport’s Lions Diabetes Center. It is one of 47 diabetes self-management education programs in the region, which is second only to North Carolina’s statewide network that’s the nation’s largest.

Self-management classes are held in hospitals and health-care facilities region-wide. But in recent years, Siminerio, a nurse who holds a doctoral degree in health care delivery, has worked to expand the network, including having diabetes educators in primary-care physician offices. There, patients who are newly diagnosed or have had challenges with controlling their diabetes can be scheduled for visits. There they can learn proper use of medications, optimal diet, the importance of exercise and how to test and regulate blood sugar.

It equips people with the tools and confidence necessary to respond aptly to the alarm.

In her team’s published research, patients receiving diabetes education in doctor’s office settings reduced blood-sugar levels by 1.2 percent, as measured by the HgA1C blood test. That means levels fell closer to the normal range of 4 to 6 percent.

“Patients felt they had fewer problems and that was linked to the number of visits with diabetes educators,” Siminerio said.

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In January, Siminerio was appointed chairman-elect of the National Diabetes Education Program, jointly operated through the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Created 16 years ago, the NDEP is working to reduce the diabetes epidemic.

“She is a pioneer in the field of diabetes education, a nationally recognized advocate for diabetes education and care, and well recognized in the diabetes community,” said Joanne Gallivan, the NIH director of NDEP.

Strategies developed by and research led by Siminerio have translated successfully into programs to help all people with diabetes, but specifically those in underserved populations. “All of that experience has led to nominating Linda to be chairwoman of the NDEP.”

In the position, Siminerio will work yearlong with NDEP leaders with one goal of taking local programs nationwide once she becomes chairwoman next January.

“We have to use the whole health-care structure with medical practices all over the region,” Siminerio said, concerning community-based programs for diabetes education. “That’s why we are working with primary-care physicians and working proactively rather than waiting for references to the program. We have to get to the patients and not wait for them to come to us.

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