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Volunteer creates ministry for diabetics


Registered nurse Patty Larraga, founder of the Institute of Minority Health Education and Research, discusses diabetes management at an assisted-living center in Wichita, Kan. UMNS photos by John Gordon.  

By John Gordon*
Sept. 26, 2007 | WICHITA, Kan. (UMNS)

Making her rounds as a home-health care nurse, Patty Larraga noticed something unusual: a dangerous disease that seemed to hit the Hispanic community especially hard.

"Diabetes is a very insidious or sneaky disease," says Larraga. "People walk around for many years, often times, and don't even know it."

Larraga began volunteering her time to find those with diabetes — and teach them how to lead healthier lives and avoid life-threatening complications.  She founded the Institute of Minority Health Education and Research as an outreach to Hispanics living in the Wichita area.  A $50,000 grant from United Methodist Health Ministry Fund is helping the organization expand its programs.


Dave Sanford is the executive director of GraceMed Health Clinic, an area health clinic supported by the United Methodist Church's Kansas West Annual (regional) Conference.

"We know now that no one has to die blind, no one has to lose their feet nor do they have to end up on dialysis," says Larraga, whose husband was diagnosed with the disease two years ago. "These are the three complications that we know we can prevent."

Institute volunteers conduct screening clinics to help diagnose diabetes.  The organization also holds bilingual classes to show diabetics how to manage the disease by watching their diet, exercising and regularly checking their blood sugar.

Larraga's organization has developed a relationship with GraceMed, a Wichita health clinic supported by the United Methodist Kansas West Annual (regional) Conference.  GraceMed is the biggest source of referrals for the classes.

Dave Sanford, the clinic's executive director, says 12,000 patients are treated there every year.  Most of them are uninsured or under-insured.

"The No. 1 chronic disease state that we address is diabetes," says Sanford. "We see a lot of health-care disparities when it comes to the minority population.  And so when it comes to Hispanics or African-Americans, there's a higher rate of diabetes."

Jose Gasca knows well the importance of a healthy lifestyle.  Gasca, 63, is a GraceMed patient who was referred to Larraga's classes to learn more about managing his diabetes.

"I myself have lost brothers, relatives that have left this earth way too early because they weren't getting a full guidance as how to manage their diabetes," he says.

Adjustments in his diet are also part of Gasca's plan. "With Latinos, we just love our food and we tend to overeat," he explains. "So it's important to exercise.  It's something we live with, that we can manage every day."


Diana Juarez, a volunteer and director of education for the institute, walks with Jose Gasca, a 63 year-old diabetic patient. 


Diana Juarez, an institute volunteer who is the group's director of education, meets those who have completed the educational courses for walks in the park to put into practice what they learned in the classroom.

"It concerns me that people (who) do not know they have diabetes will probably wait until there's a major complication to come down and learn that they have to treat it every day," she says. "So, it becomes a public health issue.  Someone is paying the bill."

The United Methodist grant will allow the institute to become certified by the American Diabetes Association.  According to Larraga, the organization will then be able to receive payments from Medicare and Medicaid for its educational programs, helping the mostly-volunteer group pay overhead expenses and other costs.

One of Larraga's goals is to train other health-care workers — promotores — to help spread the facts about diabetes and how to manage the disease.

"One community health worker can reach approximately a thousand people a year," she says, "and touch that many lives and make a difference. It's almost like we're cloning ourselves so they can help others."

*Gordon is a freelance writer and producer in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Goode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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United Methodist Health Ministry Fund

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*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

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