Director of Operations, Sarah Mart, recently participated in the Women in Government 2018 National Legislative Conference (#WIGbytheBay), held in San Francisco during late June. Sarah, who was diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 7, educated policymakers about the importance of diabetes and heart disease issues during the session “The Intersection Between Diabetes & Cardiovascular Disease”. She was joined by fellow speaker Sarah Kim, MD, Director, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital Adult Diabetes Clinic & Adult Weight Management Clinic.
DiabetesSisters congratulates Sarah on her hard work highlighting the importance of diabetes and heart disease. We are pleased to include her full remarks below:
Diabetes and heart disease are important topics to me, both personally and professionally.
I have lived with diabetes for nearly all of my life. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1980. My family and I were told that ignoring my diabetes, or not controlling it well enough, could cause bad things to happen to many different parts of my body, including my eyes and kidneys. But none of my health care providers (endocrinologists, primary care MDs, physician assistants, certified diabetes educators (CDE), or registered dieticians) mentioned connections between diabetes and heart health until last year – 2017. Both my endocrinologist and CDE told me the same thing: “With 38 years of diabetes, you are at the same risk of heart disease as someone without diabetes who has already had a heart attack.”
There are nearly 15 million of us women with diabetes in the US, both diagnosed (11.7 million) and undiagnosed (3.1 million), and another 39.5 million women diagnosed with prediabetes. We know that having diabetes increases our risk of heart disease, the most common diabetes complication, by about four times in women vs. only two times in men. Women with diabetes also have worse outcomes after a heart attack, and are at higher risk of other diabetes-related complications such a blindness, kidney disease, and depression, than men.
I also work for a national diabetes nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. At DiabetesSisters, I work with more than 60 volunteers: peer support group leaders, bloggers, guest speakers, and expert advisors, to create programs and content that make the lives of women with diabetes easier and better. We want to make sure women with diabetes understand our risks for heart disease and know how to say as healthy as possible.
We recently held our first Facebook Live Series: three events discussing connections between diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic kidney disease. We partnered with WomenHeart and the National Kidney Foundation to broadcast discussions with healthcare professionals and patients living with these conditions. One of our community leaders who lives with type 2 diabetes and heart disease was featured in the Facebook Live series, as well as on national TV programs as part of the For Your Sweetheart campaign.
We know peer support, education, and encouragement is an important piece of the puzzle. Our signature program, the Part of DiabetesSisters (PODS) Meetup program, coordinates peer support groups in more than 40 locations across the US and online. PODS Leaders (peer leaders who are women with diabetes or prediabetes) are provided with topics and discussion modules for each month, and the February module is Preventing Heart Disease. We talk about our increased risks for heart disease, symptoms we need to watch for, questions to discuss with our health care providers, and ways we can take action to keep our hearts healthy. PODS members also do yoga classes, go on hikes, and learn to cook healthy meals together, supporting each other all the way.
Diabetes is not only different FOR women, it’s different AMONG women. Women who are African American, Hispanic/Latina, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander are two to four times as likely to have diabetes as white women. So DiabetesSisters works hard to ensure we reach underserved and minority populations of women.
In the past year we held six in-person forums in three states to address diabetes, heart health, and ways to increase healthier behaviors. In South Florida, three seminars for Latin women age 65 and older with diabetes or prediabetes provided information on healthy, culturally- and ethnically-oriented cooking and eating; the importance of routine tests including cholesterol and triglycerides; easy ways to consistently include movement and activity in everyday life; and various treatment options for both diabetes and heart disease. These seminars are conducted entirely in Spanish.
In November we held a community forum in Old Bridge, New Jersey, that brought together expert speakers, local resources, and more than 50 community members (South Asian women with diabetes or prediabetes) to discuss diabetes and health topics including cardiovascular disease, and ways to prevent and treat heart-related complications.
In Silver Spring MD we held two community seminars on diabetes and heart health. For the first: Conversations about Diabetes and Heart Health for African American Women: The Patient Perspective, we brought a patient advocate from WomenHeart to share eye-opening statistics about Black women’s health, along with her personal story of living with diabetes and experiencing a heart attack. In the second we brought an endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism fellow from Johns Hopkins to present Candid Conversations about Diabetes and Heart Health for African American Women, and to share her researcher and provider perspectives.
We know women in general, women with all types of diabetes, and especially women diagnosed with prediabetes, aren’t always offered appropriate, accurate diabetes education and support that they need.
We are pleased that they often find DiabetesSisters when looking for such information and support. We work hard to empower all women with any type of diabetes or prediabetes and any type of heart/cardiovascular problems to know the facts about their conditions and learn ways to live their healthiest lives.