Staying on Top of Diabetes Management Could Save Your Life

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Quentin & Emily Owens, PharmD

Quentin Miles had lived with Type 2 Diabetes for 20 years when the resources he relied on to help manage his disease suddenly were no longer available.

Quentin, had depended on home health aides to administer his insulin shots. “It takes some getting used to,” he says. “The shots burn a little bit, and you have to time them just so and make sure you have the right dose or they don’t work as well.”

Quentin lost access to home health assistance earlier this year. “I was so nervous,” he says. “I can’t hardly read, so it was hard to figure out how to manage my medication on my own. I got off track with that and with my diet. It was hard.”

Diabetes interviewWJHL VIDEO: Quentin discusses his diabetes
management experience

Within months, Quentin began having complications related to dangerously elevated blood sugar. Soon after, health officials paired him with a diabetes educator and clinical pharmacist practitioner from Holston Medical Group, Emily Owens, PharmD, BC-ADM, who specializes in treating patients with chronic conditions and those who struggle to access timely care.

Today, Quentin’s blood sugar levels have noticeably improved—and so has his energy level. He’s back to doing the things he loves, such as canning peppers and splitting wood. “Dr. Owens has been such a big, big help to me,” he says. “You cannot ask for a better doctor than her. Anything I need, from insulin to teaching me how to manage my diet, she makes sure I have.”

The Need for Diabetes Education Runs Deep

Quentin isn’t alone in the challenges he has faced to manage his blood sugar. In Tennessee, the rate of adults living with diabetes is higher than the national average: 13% of Tennessee adults have diabetes, compared with 9% of adults nationally. One especially scary statistic: 161,000 Tennesseans have diabetes but don’t know it.

Quentin & Emily Owens, PharmD
After Dr. Owens taught Quentin how to manage his diabetes and medications, his help improved dramatically.

As Quentin’s journey to diabetes health demonstrates, undiagnosed or poorly managed diabetes can have disastrous effects on a person’s overall health. When blood sugar levels drop to mildly or moderately low or rise to high levels, it can be easy for individuals to brush off the symptoms, such as fatigue or excessive thirst. They may find themselves waking up in the middle of the night to urinate. They also might have dry skin.

But when blood sugar drops to a dangerously low or high level, the impact on health steadily becomes more severe. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of weight without trying—even as individuals find they are more hungry
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor healing of wounds and repeat skin infections
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet

When diabetes isn’t treated, patients can end up with irreversible nerve damage. It can also lead to heart disease. In the worst cases, poor circulation can lead to ulcers and infections that force patients to undergo amputation of toes, feet or legs. Patients can even fall into a diabetic coma. Nationally, diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.

image displaying symptoms of high blood sugar
Loss of weight, poor healing of wounds, blurred vision and numbness of hands are all symptoms of dangerously low or high blood sugar.

That’s why it’s so important to understand your body, seek help if you’re feeling unwell and—if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes—to seek a partner in care who you can trust.

Quentin was diagnosed with diabetes later in life, and it took time for him to adjust not only to the medication plan his physician prescribed, but also changes in his eating habits. Once he found the right partner in Dr. Owens, he was surprised by how quickly his health turned around. “She put confidence back in me,” he says. “I hadn’t felt well for a while, but now, I’m all right, since I keep up with my diet and my insulin. I just had to work out what I eat and make sure I take my insulin the way it’s supposed to be taken and check my blood sugar on the regular.”

Dr. Owens remembers meeting Quentin for the first time. “He was very nervous,” she says. “He showed up to see me with a very soggy bag of insulin, and he was scared about doing those injections himself. That first visit, we sat down together and practiced doing those injections using demonstration pens and some models.” Once Quentin felt comfortable giving himself insulin injections, “We followed up with each other about once every one to two weeks, just to make sure he still felt comfortable, and each time he came in, we would continue to practice,” she says.

Dr. Owens taught Quentin how to take his other medications correctly as well. “I knew that Quentin has difficulty reading, so I actually drew pictures on his medication bottles that would help him know what times of the day to take those medications,” she says. “For example, I’d draw a sun to indicate which medications to take first thing in the morning and then a very poorly drawn moon for medications that should be taken at night.”

Through it all, Quentin says, Dr. Owens has become more than a physician. “She’s my best friend,” he says. “We keep each other straight.”

“I told him: ‘Call me anytime you have a question, and I’ll do my very best to take care of you,’” Dr. Owens says. “The relationships I build with patients are the best part of my work.”

Could You Be at Risk? Here’s What to Keep in Mind

Nationally, one-in-three Americans has prediabetes, and just over one-in-10 adults are diabetic, according to a Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report. Given the prevalence of diabetes in the Appalachian Region, the number of people living with prediabetes locally is likely much higher.

healthcare worker educating a diabetic patient
The prevalence of diabetes in Tennessee is high, especially in the Appalachian Region.

At HMG, we recommend that everyone know the signs of diabetes, such as the symptoms listed above, and share their concerns with their doctor. This increases the chances that diabetes will be caught early. It also could help you avoid the need for insulin to manage your blood sugar. We’ve seen patients who were diagnosed early experience success in managing their condition through lifestyle changes, such as good nutrition and exercise.

If you do have diabetes, regular visits with your primary care physician are key. When access to transportation is an issue, call your physician’s office to see what options might be available. For example, Quentin takes a bus service for seniors to and from his appointments. Given the rise in telehealth during the pandemic, virtual care could also be an option that meets your needs.

Quentin's dogImproved health means more
walks for Quentin’s pup!

The improvements in health that Quentin has experienced are an example of the benefits of a strong patient-to-provider relationship. “Dr. Owens knows me, and she knows my sense of humor. We joke around a lot,” he says. “I feel comfortable enough to ask her any question I have about my health. That helps a lot. I even share recipes with her.”

Today, you’ll find Quentin outdoors, often at a friend’s farm, or walking with his dog, something he wasn’t able to do before his diabetes was under control. His friends and family are amazed by the health changes they have seen in Quentin. “They’ve seen a big difference,” he says. “It’s been a relief for them. They’re proud of the way Dr. Owens is working with me.”

Help Is Just a Phone Call Away

If any of the above symptoms feel familiar, don’t wait to seek care. Contact us today for an appointment at 877-HMG-1213.

Emily Owens, PharmD, works alongside HMG’s primary care providers to ensure patient safety in medication management by helping patients understand their medications. Owens is board-certified in Advanced Diabetes Management, with special interests in transitional care and social determinants of health. She resides in Johnson City with her husband, Kaleb, where they like to go hiking and camping. In fact, on her bucket list is to visit and experience every National Park in America.