Even as a little girl, Shawnee Garrick knew that diabetes had a grip on her family. Her grandmother died because of health complications from the disease; so did her grandfather. Her parents were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a year apart.
Witnessing their suffering drives her passion for her work.
At Palmetto Health in Columbia, S.C., Shawnee is project coordinator for the Diabetes Prevention Program, an evidence-based lifestyle intervention designed to help delay or prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. The hospital has identified one large section of Richland County – where rates of diabetes-related health problems are especially high – as a focus area. The Duke Endowment awarded Palmetto Health a $270,000 grant in 2015 to reach more people.
Shawnee recruits participants through free screenings at churches, grocery stores, neighborhood centers and laundromats. Behind pulpits and podiums, she explains how the program has been proven to work.
The target is to enroll 150 people annually over three years. Participants receive gym memberships, consultations with a registered dietician, and other services to help prevent or delay the onset of the disease.
At weekly sessions in the community, Shawnee encourages them to choose nutritious food, maintain a healthy weight, keep physically active, and manage their stress. She’s a trained lifestyle coach, an advocate for positive change.
She shares her own battles with exercise; her own weakness for high-calorie comfort food. With her family history, Shawnee knows that she’s also at risk for developing the disease.
“When I tell them we’re in this together, I really mean it,” she says. “I may be helping them change their lives, but they’re also helping me change mine.”
Estimates show that more than 29 million people in the United States have Type 2 diabetes. Another 86 million have prediabetes. The disease remains the seventh leading cause of death in the country.
Shawnee sees her grandmother and grandfather in the statistics.
“I can’t rewrite my grandparents’ story,” she says. “But I can help people do what they can to prevent that story from becoming their own.”
Diabetes Prevention Program
The national Diabetes Prevention Program is a CDC-recognized lifestyle change program that is structured with a focus on long-term change. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people with prediabetes who take part in the program can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent (or 71 percent for people over 60 years old). This finding, the CDC says, was the result of the program helping people lose 5-7 percent of their body weight “through healthier eating and 150 minutes of physical activity a week.”
In addition, research led by the National Institutes of Health shows that even after 10 years, “people who completed a diabetes prevention lifestyle change program were one third less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.”
Lin B. Hollowell III
Director of Health Care