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Dietician uses diabetes diagnosis to help others

By Maura Wery

Forty years ago, Norma Slagle’s health was declining.

Between her junior and senior years of high school, she began to get seizures and pass out — and doctors confused about the cause.

Norma had always been a bit on the sickly side as a child. She developed mumps and even traditional childhood illnesses had been particularly grueling.

At 17, after weeks of not knowing what was wrong, Norma learned that her body was not producing insulin. She was a Type 1 diabetic.

Slagle remembered it well: “When I was first diagnosed, I made a pact with God. I said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do — except a mission field.’ “

After her diagnosis, Norma struggled trying to keep her insulin levels in balance.

It went so far that she had to drop out of college in Joplin, Mo., to get her health back under control. While on that break from school, Norma started working with a few dieticians at the local hospital — and realized she could help people who had the same disease.

“It gave me incentive to help people with meal plans,” Slagle said.

After a few years at Hutchinson Community College and Kansas State

University, Slagle had become a registered dietician, and was able to fill her pact.

She began helping those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes learn how to manage their diet, exercise, medication and insulin.

Now 57, Slagle has been at Mercy Regional Health Center’s diabetes

center for about 18 years. She works there part time, and also at Wamego Health Center as their clinical dietician.

Norma has a bit of an advantage to her work. She uses her own personal experiences to help understand and deal with the disease.

“I can understand and empathize with what problems they might be facing,” Slagle said. ” ‘Oh poor me,’ well, you can feel sorry for yourself for a little while, but then you need to do something about this, because you don’t want it to rule your life. That was my thing, I didn’t want diabetes to rule my life and I still don’t, so I have to take care of myself as well.”

Living with diabetes takes a lot of diligent work.

Slagle said she meets with her initial patients – ones who have just developed or had the disease diagnosed — for more than an hour to discuss their different needs, allergies and eating/exercise habits.

“I help them get at least three main meals a day and snacks in there, in order to keep their blood sugars level,” Slagle said. “I try to work it out with their insulin so they are taking it at the correct time – when their insulin would peak.”

Once the meal and exercise plan is in place, Norma then becomes a counselor with her follow-up patients, listening to their issues and trying to construct a plan to handle their day-to-day lives.

“A lot of people say there isn’t a lot to know about diabetes, but there is,” Slagle said. “That’s why we have classes. To help people understand the good, bad and the ugly.”

Slagle said that if a diabetic doesn’t take care of himself or herself, there can be grave consequences. Blindness, kidney problems, nerve issues and even amputation are all complications of the disease. 

Slagle said that the job gives her incentive, not only to be a good example for her patients, but also to prevent those complications from occurring in her own life.

“It keeps me on track and motivated to take good care of myself,”

she said. “I want to die with my original kidneys. I want to see. I don’t want to go blind.”

And Slagle has no plans for bending her life to the whims of the disease anytime soon.

She said she has lived a very “blessed” life despite her health. She went through two pregnancies, and both children are now grown and don’t have diabetes.

Most of all, Slagle has been able to make a difference in the lives of other people with the disease – and she doesn’t see herself slowing down any time soon.

“Hopefully I can continue to help people,” Slagle said. “I’m so very blessed and my family is so supportive. I just look at diabetes care as my mission field.”

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