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posted: 11/14/2013 9:52 AM

Nurse educator helps diabetes patients care for themselves

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  • Diabetes nurse educator Melanie Siedlinski speaks with a family during a recent diabetes education session at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Glendale Heights.

    Diabetes nurse educator Melanie Siedlinski speaks with a family during a recent diabetes education session at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Glendale Heights.
    Courtesy Adventist Midwest Health

By Christ LaFortune
Adventist Midwest Health

Twice a week, diabetes nurse educator Melanie Siedlinski visits Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Glendale Heights to help diabetic patients and others better understand how to care for their health.

It is her life's work.

Siedlinski, a Burbank resident, has taught patients at Chicago-area hospitals for more than 35 years, the last three at GlenOaks.

Over the years, she has learned a great deal, all of which she shares with her patients.

"I love helping people and seeing the benefits when they make positive changes in their lives," Siedlinski said. "It's an opportunity to share my knowledge."

The top issues most diabetics face are related to their food and counting their carbs, Siedlinski said. The more aware people are of what they eat and the ramifications, the better off they are.

For many diabetics, Siedlinski finds that when they test their blood sugar, they do so only in the morning, before they've eaten anything.

"That's a mistake," Siedlinski said, "because it is not an indication of how their body will do under different conditions and different stresses.

"They should test at different times of the day, both before and two hours after meals," she said.

Cynthia Thomas of Wheaton went to see Siedlinski shortly after being diagnosed with diabetes. At the time, Thomas said she was still having trouble coping with the diagnosis, but Siedlinski helped her better understand what was happening and what she needed to do next.

"I did not know about blood sugar monitors, I did not know what type of blood sugar monitors my health insurance would cover," Thomas said. "Melanie walked me through that. She also educated me about an appropriate menu plan for the day, how many carbs I was allowed, and the best types of foods I should eat given my condition."

Thomas met with Siedlinski first at one of the hospital's monthly nutrition classes, but then also for a one-on-one session a couple of days later.

"Melanie gave me some excellent pointers and tips about how to handle things with my onset of diabetes, which I had just learned about," Thomas said.

Siedlinski truly enjoys working with people, and through her classes, she helps them learn how to live better quickly. With some health management, patients see benefits almost right away.

"Diabetes is one of the few conditions that you have power over," she said. "You can change your own life dramatically. You just have to know how."

"People who develop diabetes often have to undertake major lifestyle changes, which can prove challenging. Knowing what changes need to be made, or how to make them, can be difficult. That's why having someone like Melanie on staff is so important," said Maria Knecht, chief nursing officer at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital.

"Melanie is so passionate, and she is so giving of herself," Knecht said. "Our patients benefit from her expertise and her drive and passion. She makes a tremendous impact on people's lives."

When she began as a diabetes educator more than 35 years ago, Siedlinski was among the first class of certified diabetes educators in the Chicago region. She began her career in medicine as a medical-surgical nurse.

At Adventist GlenOaks Hospital, most of Siedlinski's work takes place on the inpatient units, where patients are admitted to the hospital. The hospital also offers free monthly educational programs for patients on an outpatient basis. She will meet patients privately, but prefers they attend her class first to learn the basics.

Last year, the hospital nominated Siedlinski for the annual National Nursing Excellence Awards in the category of education and mentorship. She provides ongoing education and mentoring to the hospital's nursing staff, helping them expand their knowledge of diabetes and diabetes management so they can better help patients.

She also conducts semiannual screenings of hospital staff to address any issues they might face, and some people have been identified as having diabetes through those screenings, she said.

If interested in attending one of Siedlinski's classes, call (630) 856-7525.