Hospital offers diabetes support group

Jul 10, 2019

Dr. Gabriel Ortiz-Varela gives advice about diabetes at a “Lecture and Lotería" support group on April 16, 2019 at Mission Trail Baptist Hospital. Photo by Daniel Gallegos.

Staying motivated can be the hardest part of managing diabetes, especially when people don’t understand how to fight the disease, a local physician said April 16 at Mission Trail Baptist Hospital.

Dr. Gabriel Ortiz-Varela, who owns two of the four San Antonio Premier Internal Medicine clinics, spoke to 15 people at Lecture and Loteria, part of a diabetes support group at the hospital. They discussed medications, experiences and concerns with diabetes and participated in Loteria afterward.

When people do not see results soon, they tend to think, “What’s the point?” and let the disease progress, Ortiz-Varela said.

“It’s a disease that likes to take your limbs and digits before it takes your life,” he said. “I would encourage people to get annual checkups to make sure you’re not living with diabetes.”

Diabetes can be extremely dangerous when left unchecked. It can cause heart disease, strokes, kidney damage and nerve damage.

“Let’s be honest here — diabetes can kill you,” Ortiz-Varela said.

He detailed the Eight Core Defects of diabetics. He said diabetes affects a person’s liver, kidney, pancreas, stomach, fat, intestines, muscles and brain. Ortiz considers the eight core defects when deciding whether a patient must be medicated with insulin or pills.

People with diabetes can live their best lives by following a balanced diet and being aware of warning signs, Ortiz-Varela said.

“Less pricks and less sticks is the ideal outcome when battling with diabetes,” Ortiz-Varela said of managing the disease so patients need fewer needles in their lives.

A way to start fighting diabetes is to exercise regularly because it can improve one’s sensitivity to insulin and help stabilize sugar levels.   

The usual process of checking one’s glucose levels required the patient to prick themselves and put their blood on a strip to see their levels; this process can happen from one to three times a day depending on the person.

This can be a problem for people who have a fear of needles or have a hard time pricking themselves or don’t like seeing their own blood.   

However, Ortiz-Varela described a pad that is worn on the arm to check one’s glucose levels with a wireless scanner and sensor. It provides the result through a downloadable app.

Ortiz-Varela suggests getting tested every three years for diabetes. Any high levels must be addressed to prevent any serious damage or slow down diabetes from developing

The Diabetes Support Group started in February 2017. It meets 4:30-5:30 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at Mission Trail Baptist Hospital, 3333 Research Plaza, or the Harvey E. Najim YMCA, 3122 Roosevelt Ave.

This year’s meetings at the hospital are May 21, July 16, Aug. 20 and Oct. 15 in Classroom 3A/B on the second floor and Nov. 19 in the hospital’s cafeteria. The YMCA meetings are June 18, Sept. 17 and Dec. 17 in the first-floor classroom of the kitchen area.

Patients receive medical resources and encouragement from experts and other patients attending. The gathering, which includes refreshments, aims to support people in their daily struggles with diabetes.

Katie Ivey, director of pastoral care, and Brenda Stewart, diabetes educator and registered nurse, organize events for diabetic patients.

Ivey said,“There are many people who have difficulty coping with challenges that diabetes offers. We know if we get people in a group setting, it’s not just health care professionals telling them what to do, but instead an opportunity to get advice from others who are actually dealing with diabetes and living with it. They are not alone and that’s what we want to encourage them to know.”

Ivey and Stewart allow members to take control of the monthly topics. Providing patients with topics they are most interested in keeps them wanting to come back to learn more about living comfortably with diabetes.

“Diabetes is such an emotional disease, and if we talk about what’s going on within one another, it helps cope with depression, which is common with diabetes because people often feel defeated,” Ivey said. “Being among people who understand what you’re going through means a lot to the people in this support group. It’s a community within a community.”

Ivey and Stewart plan to cover nutrition at the June meeting. They will invite a dietician to demonstrate how to cook in a healthful manner.

“There are other people out there just like them who have the same questions, who are struggling in the same way,” Stewart said, “If we can come together and talk with one another, sometimes two heads are better than one. Having these gatherings with the professional guidance makes all the difference.”

For more information, call 833-271-0334 or visit

Daniel Gallegos contributed to this story.


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