Living with Diabetes: Perspectives from Uganda

In 2013, Shannon Lyles, UF Health Pediatric Diabetes Nurse Educator, traveled to Uganda on a mission trip to help individuals living with diabetes. Read her inspiring first-handed account below and see the message she shares with all of us.

image2“On my recent mission trip to Kamonkoli, Uganda I was reminded of the importance of knowledge and supplies when it comes to managing diabetes.  Since I have had type 1 diabetes 17 years now and have worked here at UF Pediatric Endocrinology for 11 years, I often take for granted all the luxuries we are afforded here in the US for managing diabetes.  From diabetes education, insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors, endless brands of blood glucose (BG) meters and test strips, insulin pens, assorted insulin types, etc, there is nothing we cannot obtain.  I test my BG levels 7-10 times a day without a second thought and I never have to worry about where my next vial of insulin will come from.

So, when I, along with a nursing colleague Sue, stood before a group of 5 adult Ugandan patients with diabetes,  3 with type 1 and 2 with type 2, I was confronted with the reality of how blessed I am with the access to care and supplies that I have daily.  Four of the patients did not have BG monitors, and the 5th patient only had one because I had previously brought it last year and the test strips being used were expired.   Four of the 5 were on insulin and they were unable to recall the name of the insulin types being used.  They weren’t sure of doses they were supposed to take either.  They had been given minimal education and were hungry to have their questions answered in how to better manage their diabetes.

These patients were so excited to receive BG meters and strips because that meant they would have the knowledge (which they had been lacking) to see how they are doing with regards to their BG management.  As we had all 5 patients test, Sue and I were taken aback by the BG results that were all 300+.  However, these BG levels did not phase the patients.  That was the sad reality.  They live at these high BG levels because of lack of access to care, supplies, and knowledge.  Subsequently, they aren’t afforded the opportunity to maintain control of their diabetes.  So, while these 5 learned some diabetes basics, some better nutrition ideas, and how to check BG levels on the new meters, they were then sent on their way.  No ketones were checked, no additional insulin given, as would have been done here in the states, but they were more thankful than any other patients I have dealt with after a 2 hour class.

I believe we could all learn something from these 5 who inspired me with their questions and thirst for knowledge.  Diabetes is hard wherever you live, but if you are lucky enough to live somewhere like the US, don’t take for granted all of the tools we have for management.  When you don’t feel like checking your BG levels, do it anyway because some people would give anything to have a meter & strips to do the same.  When you are tired of counting carbs and taking insulin think of those who have no idea of what carbs are or who don’t have access to insulin on a regular basis.  When you have to stop what you are doing to treat hypoglycemia, be thankful you even know what it is and how to treat it!  If you are reading this article, then you likely have access to all you need to manage your diabetes.  So, take a moment to reflect on the tools you do have in your daily life with diabetes, and you will see you are blessed!  Also, consider how you may become involved to help others living with diabetes.”

Check out the websites below for opportunities to make a difference:

photoShannon Lyles, BSN, RN, CDE, joined the University of Florida Department of Pediatric Endocrinology in 2002 and is a Registered Nurse Specialist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She teaches newly-diagnosed and established patients, caregivers, and school nurses about diabetes management. Shannon sees patients for routine clinic visits, coordinates the insulin pump program, develops educational material, and many other things to help improve the lives of her patients living with diabetes. Since 1998 Shannon has volunteered with Florida Camps for Children & Youth with Diabetes (FCCYD), participating in various weekend and weeklong programs throughout the year. Shannon has served on the Medical Advisory Board and is currently on the Board of Directors. Shannon obtained her BSN degree from the University of Central Florida.