Over the past year, Kay Jipp, Pat Ratcliffe, Bev Walters and Carol Lenhart have celebrated recognition from the American Diabetes Association and certification from the state of Iowa for their work in the Buena Vista Regional Medical Center's diabetes department.
Unfortunately, the quartet has also seen the need for their services increase around the local area over the past few years.
Diabetes, a chronic disease which causes high blood sugar levels, affects approximately 16 million people in the U.S., and health experts estimate over five million individuals have the disease but do not know it.
The seventh-leading cause of death in the nation, diabetes is also a contributor to heart disease, stroke, blindness, high blood pressure, kidney disease and even amputations.
Over 800,000 new cases of diabetes are reported in the United States each year, and the latest statistics show the number of people with the condition has risen by 49 percent over the last decade.
Ratcliffe, a dietician at BVRMC, said the rapid increase in the number of diabetes cases nationwide is cause for concern among members of the health community, as the American Diabetes Association projects the number of diabetes cases will grow 165 percent in the next 50 years.
"I would say diabetes is definitely an epidemic in this country," Ratcliffe said. "I would say it's a major epidemic, and the rise in our society being overweight and inactive has directly contributed to the rise in diabetes."
Storm Lake has not been immune from the breakout in diabetes, and Jipp, a nurse in the BVRMC diabetes department, said many people come to the Diabetes Center to learn how to better manage the condition.
"We do see a lot of patients," Jipp said. "I would say we get new referrals several times a week here. But, we're just like everywhere else. There are new referrals happening all over the country, so we're no different from other parts of the country."
Both Jipp and Ratcliffe said the department has made significant strides this year, as it was recognized by the American Diabetes Association in January for its educational services, and received state certification in October, which allows BVRMC to be reimbursed from Title 19 for that diabetes education.
"Both the certification and recognition have been great, because they've been very beneficial from a financial point of view," Ratcliffe said. "They've helped us quite a bit."
The diabetes department's goal is to help people with the disease learn how to best manage the condition, which can be treated but cannot be cured.
Normally, glucose, the body's main energy source, is transported from the food we eat into the body's cells, where it is then converted into energy. Insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, helps this happen by unlocking the "doors" of the cells to allow the glucose to enter.
With diabetes, this process is broken down, as insulin is either absent or is poorly used. As a result, the amount of glucose in the bloodstream goes up dramatically, and this accumulation of glucose in the blood can eventually cause damage to almost every major organ in the body.
The disease is dangerous, but Jipp, who has been in the department since the beginning of 2001, said the center has been a valuable asset for both patients and doctors, as it has helped provide elaborate information for diabetes patients to help them understand that they are in complete control of the condition.
"The doctors don't have the time it takes to sit down with patients and give the fine details of how to best manage diabetes, and that's where we come in," Jipp said. "With diseases like cancer the doctor has to tell you what to take or what to do, but with diabetes, we help the patient manage it by himself or herself and they are in charge."
"Diabetes can't be cured, but it can be managed effectively," Ratcliffe said. "We want people to understand that and learn how to do that on an everyday basis."
Managing one's diet is a major component of managing diabetes, but Ratcliffe said patients don't have to give up favorite foods due to the disease.
She said diabetes patients may eat many of the foods they consumed before the condition's onset, but must be able to use proper discretion in the amount of food they eat.
"People with diabetes can eat foods other people can, but it's how much and how often," Ratcliffe said. "For example, a diabetic can eat ice cream, but instead of a full cup, it's a half-cup. There aren't any forbidden foods, but people with diabetes just have to eat less of it."
While there is no cure for diabetes yet, there are many positive signs on the horizon.
Jipp and Ratcliffe said several new medications have emerged in the past few years to help control diabetes, including a drug called Lantis, a long-lasting insulin which helps reduce the number of times per day certain patients must inject themselves with insulin shots.
Several new books about diabetes have also come out in the past year, and the department's staff uses these books to help patients better understand diabetes.
Ratcliffe said all of these tools simply reinforce the idea that the patients are the ones in charge, and that is the message the department's staff wants to get across.
"We want to keep this simple, because we want to provide the information in a clear, concise manner," Ratcliffe said. "We want to make sure our patients are in control of diabetes, rather than diabetes being in control of them."