Helping a Vietnam Vet Gain Control

Hospital-based, outpatient diabetes education programs have come and gone on the Space Coast over the last few decades. Today, the program offered at Parrish Medical Center (PMC) is the only one that remains.

For those diagnosed with diabetes, knowledge is definitely power. When that knowledge is turned into actions, an otherwise unmanageable disease can quickly become manageable.

Pedro Gonzalez, a 73-year old Orlando resident, can attest to this. A retired Air Force aircraft maintenance superintendent and disabled Vietnam vet, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1985. He does not know how he developed the disease, though he is certain it is not in his genes, as his parents and grandparents never had it.

He can make some good educated guesses, though, with one being the herbicide Agent Orange that he was exposed to in Vietnam. According to the National Academy of Sciences research, Agent Orange may be linked to adult-onset diabetes, as well as the disability Gonzalez suffers — a back problem that he says is common in his field of work, which has resulted in too much inactivity.

He also believes that his eating habits — never reading the labels on boxes for sugar and salt content — contributed to his diabetes. There is no question about how the disease and his lack of control over it have affected his life. There is the weight gain. In his prime, he weighed around 180 pounds. Today he is at 230 pounds. Then there is the sluggishness. Gonzalez says he cannot do most activities without getting exhausted. Further, he did not know when or where to inject the insulin, and his blood sugar levels were going up and down like a rollercoaster. “I would be at lows three to four times a week. My highs were about the same,” he recalls.

“I want to live a better lifestyle. Because of the program, I feel better. I can do a little bit more.”
— Pedro Gonzalez, participant in Parrish Medical Center’s Diabetes Education program.

Two years ago, more than ready to learn how to manage his diabetes and improve his quality of life, Gonzalez, a father of four and grandfather of nine, signed up for the Diabetes Education program offered at Parrish Medical Center (PMC) in Titusville. The program teaches persons diagnosed with diabetes about the disease and how to self-manage it with lifestyle adjustments, such as good nutrition and exercise, and provides support to keep patients on the right path.

As required by the program, Gonzalez attended an in-depth, seven-hour diabetes self-management group class at PMC taught by Peggy McLaughlin, R.N., a certified diabetes educator and the program manager. He learned about the disease’s process, medications and complications, how to monitor his blood glucose and manage the insulin. The class included talks by a fitness instructor where he learned the benefits of exercise, and a dietitian who taught him about good nutrition/meal planning (i.e. carb counting and reading food labels). To ensure he stays on track, Gonzalez says he visits with a program nurse every three months.

The lifestyle changes Gonzalez has made with what he learned in the program include paying attention to what he eats—yes, he and his wife, Rose, now read the labels while grocery shopping and eat more fruits and vegetables—taking a multivitamin daily and an Omega 3 supplement three times a day.

And he exercises every day. While limited to a large extent by his disability, he is committed to taking a five-minute walk every day and uses a stair-climbing machine five minutes per session three times a day.

These adjustments have equated to more control over his diabetes. Since starting the program, he says he has only had one bad blood sugar low.

“This is a very manageable disease,” says McLaughlin. “Oftentimes, patients don’t realize that. Knowledge is power.

Established in 1995, PMC’s Diabetes Education program is well needed. Brevard County’s diabetes prevalence rate is a staggering 12 percent (as of 2009), according to Centers for Disease Control statistics cited by PMC, much higher than the state of Florida’s 10.1 percent (2010) rate and the nationwide rate of 9.1 percent (2010). And it is well utilized. In fact, over the last couple of years, the program, which requires a physician referral, averages 300 to 400 patients per year.

The core of the program is the diabetes selfmanagement education. It is delivered in two formats: a seven-hour all day class, and, for those with time constraints, a three-hour survival skills class. There are also support components, such as a one-hour, monthly support group meeting and a healthy foods pantry. In addition, program nurses meet with patients at least twice a year to check on their blood sugar control and how they are
implementing what they learned in the class. Family members, whether it is a spouse or a child living with the patient, are encouraged to participate in the program.

For more information about PMC’s Diabetes Education program, call (321) 268-6699 or visit

Article originally appeared in SpaceCoast Living | Health 2013