Successful Shawano Program Goes Beyond Weight Loss to Wisdom, Empowerment
Deep down, many of us know we should be more active, cut down on junk food, or simply start believing in ourselves more. When a person’s health is threatened with the onset of Type 2 diabetes (T2D), the factors that contribute to this potential diagnosis go way beyond a number on the scale; they reach into our physical, mental, and emotional lives in complex and meaningful ways. The PT2 group, or Prevent Type 2 Diabetes, a program of ThedaCare At Work in Shawano, has been racking up success stories as participants embark on long-term lifestyle changes to avoid the onset of T2D. At the same time, they support one another and ultimately come to see themselves as capable, active people in charge of their own well-being.
Carey Grieves, a certified health coach at ThedaCare At Work, facilitates PT2 in Shawano. The group was formed last fall, its members coming from Shawano-area ThedaCare employees and their spouses and employees of the Menominee Indian School District, a local client of wellness programming through ThedaCare At Work. Participants were aware they were at risk of developing T2D based on conversations with their doctor or health coach or participating in a workplace health assessment that indicated high blood glucose levels. T2D, a chronic life-altering disease, requires careful monitoring of blood sugar due to low insulin and can lead to more serious health problems. Individuals with blood glucose levels of 100 to 125 are considered pre-diabetic, and those 126 and greater have confirmed T2D. Complications from T2D high blood sugar include heart disease, strokes, diabetic retinopathy which can result in blindness, kidney failure, and poor blood flow in the limbs which may lead to amputations.
Erica Schwoerer, 29, is an algebra teacher at Menominee Indian High School in Keshena. She joined PT2 because she and her doctor recognized several factors that predisposed her to T2D, including both parents with lifelong weight issues and a father with T2D who took insulin injections until his blood sugar was better controlled. She and her fiancé John were also planning a summer wedding, so the timing was right.
“I went to the first meeting last fall and was immediately hooked,” Schwoerer said. “Carey set the tone when she said we needed to badger ourselves to not badger ourselves. This was going to be a long-term process and if we had a bad week, we were learning things, not failing. I liked that.”
Two separate groups began meeting after work at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano with a total of 24 participants. They started with weekly meetings, and eventually transitioned to every-other-week then monthly meetings. “This program is special because increasing activity levels is on par with increasing awareness and wisdom about what affects our outlook on life and our health,” Grieves said.
The integrated approach means participants were asked to lose only 5 to 7 percent on their body weight in conjunction with 150 minutes of activity per week and initial food journaling. “Otherwise, people get obsessed with weight loss,” Grieves said, “and data shows that significant weight loss rarely lasts. We want to help people avoid T2D now and five to seven years into the future. Program data shows we can reduce eventual diagnoses of T2D by 58 percent.”
Alan Barnick, 64, signed up for PT2 after his wife Marie brought home the information from her job at ThedaCare. True, Barnick had a high blood sugar scare and even survived prostate cancer last year, but it was his willingness to learn that drew him to the class. “I believe you can always learn something,” he said, “and I think it would be wrong to miss this opportunity if it’s available to you.” The retired production supervisor spent his working years under a lot of stress and as a result, packed on a lot of weight. Now a local realtor, Barnick’s happiest times are spent in the woods or planning his next trip out west to hunt elk.
Barnick tracks his activity in face cords of wood cut, split, and stacked, and time spent mowing his clients’ lawns with a 30-pound training pack on his back in preparation for hunting season. He’s joined Marie in her appreciation for vegetables and tracks his caloric intake on a phone app. “It’s amazing how one fish fry or fast food sandwich can blow your whole week,” he discovered. Barnick is at his slimmest in 30 years and fit enough for a big trip to the Badlands this fall. He credits his success to belonging to a group of like-minded individuals. “Birds of a feather flock together, and I surrounded myself with good people,” he said.
Each P2D meeting affords participants the chance to share an “ah-ha” moment that they discovered as part of their lifestyle changes. For Schwoerer, it was realizing that she ate a lot of the same processed foods without much variety in her diet. “I had never really stopped and looked at what I was eating. That’s the kind of thing we learned—to just stop and observe what we are doing. I decided to bring more vegetables and fiber into my diet, and now I feel better than I ever did.”
Similarly, Schwoerer began measuring her coffee creamer (not eliminating it entirely), parked farther from school to increase her steps, and used the elevator half as often. She and John moved into a new house and spent long days hauling boxes and climbing ladders to paint, activities that put her far over the top of her weekly 150-minute activity goal. “I am not a go-to-the-gym person. Our quote of the class was that I ‘exercise’ but not ‘exercise-exercise,’” she laughed. By the end of the school year, Schwoerer lost 12 pounds, never had to join a gym, fit in a lot more dog walks, and learned a lot about her ability to influence her own wellness.
PT2 in Shawano is a qualified lifestyle change program through the Center for Disease Control, which means it is facilitated by a trained lifestyle coach who submits data ever six months to track the program’s impact. Grieves emphasizes PT2 is not a weight loss program or an exercise class; it’s a year-long program that includes group support and the sharing of collective wisdom. “Each person’s situation is different; no prescribed plan works for all of us,” she said. “Many people don’t realize the impact of lifestyle changes on their own health all without turning to prescription drugs. We begin a process of self-discovery and start to own our well-being, and that kind of wisdom stays with us for the long haul.”
To learn more about the PT2 program at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano, or to inquire about future start dates, please contact Carey Grieves at ThedaCare At Work at 715.526.8455.
For more than 100 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,700 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a nonprofit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, and stroke, orthopedic and cardiac programs, as well as a foundation dedicated to community service. For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.