Today we continue our series of interviews with the ten 2017 DiabetesMine Patient Voices Scholarship Contest winners who will be joining us for the annual DiabetesMine Innovation Summit in mid-November at Stanford School of Medicine.
We're delighted to introduce Toshana N. Sledge, a Philadelphia, PA-based type 2 who has a long line of diabetes in her family and is striving to be an advocate for the African-American Community. She's passionate about helping change the way PWDs -- and everyone in our country -- looks at food, and she has some intriguing and novel ideas on this front.
Here's our recent interview with this D-peep from the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection!
A Chat with Diabetes Advocate Toshana N. Sledge
DM) Toshana, we always like to start by asking how diabetes came into your life...
TS) My entire family on my mother's side has diabetes, all six of her siblings to be exact. My maternal grandmother died of renal failure because she refused dialysis, and her father had both lower limbs amputated and later died of diabetic complications. Diabetes wrecks our family no matter if you are skinny or fat, healthy or unhealthy!
Sadly when I was diagnosed in 2014, I really did not take my disease seriously and continued with an unhealthy lifestyle. Also, there were few to no resources for diabetes education and the like offered, so unfortunately my A1C and daily blood glucose was out of control and my health suffered greatly. Consequently I had to become my own health and diabetic advocate, so I am now a proud diabetes advocate for PWD's health, fitness and nutrition, and my specific interest is being a diabetes advocate for the African-American Community.
What are the biggest diabetes issues affecting the African-American Community?
As an African-American, there is startling data about the epidemic rate of diabetes in the black population – it’s tripled during the past 30 years! I’ve seen in my own community how limitations in knowledge about diabetes in minorities and the need for increased research and intervention has led to high rates of complications or even death among blacks. While genetic traits, the prevalence of obesity, and insulin resistance all contribute to the risk of diabetes in African-Americans, the lack of technology and innovation is prevalent in my community -- it has somehow skipped one of the largest population of diabetes sufferers. I hope to help bridge the gap of racial disparities in diabetic health care via technology.
So the latest diabetes tools are not reaching this population?
Correct, the African-American community is still a decade behind in technology and innovations when it comes to diabetes. I know of whole families still utilizing refrigerated insulin needles and the like. Even their glucometers are dated, there are so many innovations made recently on how diabetics manage, control, and treat their diabetes that has escaped the African-American community.
What do you do professionally?
I am a Food Service Manager at an almost 200-year-old boarding school with one of the most internationally known companies.
So you are clearly well-versed with issues around healthy food choices. Can you some of the changes you made in your own diet?
Initially, I didn't make any changes following my T2D diagnosis. This was a grave mistake. I was in total denial, in spite of the facts of my genetics and sad family history of diabetes in my maternal family. However, recently I have been eating meals more often, less refined sugars, and less carbohydrates. Specifically, I eat berries, apples and cucumbers daily, and my glucose numbers and A!C love it!
And you’re interested in becoming a certified diabetes educator and nutritionist?
After doing research, I've learned that one has to have a medical background in order to become a CDE; apparently I chose the initial wrong career. Nonetheless, I would still love to pursue that area of work, perhaps after becoming a nutritionist I'll qualify. I plan to attend classes this spring at Drexel University as a Food Science major.
Can you tell us more about your passion for organic gardening, or a 'PWD garden,' so to speak?
The positive affects I've recently seen with the changes in my diet and being more active has led me to believe that simply working in a garden will impact one with diabetes greatly. The fresh air, vitamin D from the sun, the increase in physical activity and a bountiful harvest of fresh nutritious produce from a garden are all awesome benefits one receives from organic gardening.
While I have been a gardener since a teenager, I would love to see more gardens in urban environments for city dwellers with diabetes. The PWD Garden could be a step in the right direction for fitness, nutrition, and abounding health for diabetics.
We've been asking our Patient Winners what specific healthcare need they would personally most want to help solve. Sounds like food is your area of passion...?
Yes, I would change the entire way food is massed produced in this country -- ban foods from China, and fund restaurants that use non-GMO's, organic, locally sourced meat and produce. If diet is an answer to (living healthier with) type 2 diabetes, then our diets must be changed from every aspect.
The Food Service industry has not experienced any major shakeups in at least 25 years. The great majority of food service companies unfortunately are still serving very processed, not local sourced, non-organic, genetically modified food, if one could even call it that. I would love to see a major food service company commence this process by partnering with local school districts and change the total meal structure -- have two-thirds of every meal be locally sourced, organic, non-GMO real food, made from scratch of produce and proteins and a small amount of grains.
It is my aspiration to see this happen on a national level, for American children everywhere to eat the most healthily raised and produced food.
In your application, you also mentioned the idea of an “A1C drop-off” -- what do you mean by that?
An A1C drop-off would be novel in that a PWD could drop off their blood work at their doctor's office with a simple prick of the finger just like when measuring our daily glucose levels. We'd place blood work in an envelope and put in a drop box and just wait for the results via email -- or even more novel, have it synced to a PWD app, like Livongo, to get the results.
What do you think are the biggest overall challenges right now in diabetes innovation?
As noted, a big challenge is getting innovation and new technology to the disenfranchised communities in the U.S.
I recently started using the Livongo meter and glucose tracking system that supplies unlimited test strips and supplies. Also, I recently lost 10 pounds and plan to lose 10 more from diet and exercise for the very near future!
Wow congrats! And what are you most looking forward to about the Innovation Summit?
I am looking forward to the Summit to network, interact and gain knowledge about technology, diabetes care and its participants.
Thanks for sharing, Toshana! We're looking forward to more of your "food for thought" at the Summit :)