Dr. Denise Tropea, a private practice podiatrist in Las Vegas, has seen thousands of diabetes sufferers in her career — many of them connected to food insecurity.
“You have to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” Tropea said. “Once you do that your blood sugar will be in better shape. Nutrition is just the cornerstone. That is the basis, the root of it. We need to be aware of our diet and what we’re eating.”
Tropea is a member of Lions International, a service organization that raises awareness of and contributes to humanitarian causes around the world. Last year, it adopted diabetes as a signature cause, joining blindness and hunger.
Thousands of Lions members from more than 125 countries recently gathered for a conference in Las Vegas. Tropea and several others spent a morning volunteering at Vegas Roots Community Garden in a diabetes education and awareness effort.
“A place like (Vegas Roots) provides the education and it provides you with a foundation,” Tropea said. “It all goes back to being more aware. I’ve been involved with diabetes for the past 30 years … and I see all the complications that result from it. One in three Americans are pre-diabetic, meaning they don’t have full-blown diabetes but given three to five years, it could be full-blown.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, about 10,000 people are diagnosed with diabetes in Nevada each year and more than 281,000 Nevadans have the condition. Of these, an estimated 75,000 have diabetes but don’t know it, greatly increasing their health risk and often leading to neuropathy — a weakness or numbness in the hands and feet.
“People get nerve damage in their feet and they don’t know they have it,” Tropea said. “When you get nerve damage in your feet and don’t feel certain things, then you are possibly exposed to damage — sores and wounds that you don’t feel.” Such wounds become aggravated, or worse infected, the more walking you do with a wound you don’t know you have, she added.
Tropea works with a local group, the Diabetes Wellness Club, formed by several Las Vegas Lions members to raise awareness of diabetes and test for neuropathy throughout the community.
“Testing is free,” Tropea said. “We join with other groups like the Nevada Diabetes Association or the Asian American Coalition — different groups in the community for health events, and provide neuropathy testing. We use a monofilament wire to test areas in the foot to see if the patient can feel. We give them an evaluation sheet and depending on results, will refer them to a doctor.”
Judi Temple, also a member of Lions Club International, suffers from a rare form of neuropathy called gastroparesis — neuropathy of the stomach. The condition has caused severe nerve damage in Temple’s stomach, creating a struggle with her diet that goes beyond typical diabetic challenges. She has an insulin pump and Dexacom meter attached to her body at all times to monitor insulin levels and deliver it as needed.
“It makes food not process at the right speed,” Temple said. “It just sits there and for some people who have it extensively, you throw up, you’re nauseated. It’s been five years that I’ve been trying to control everything and get my A1C (a measure of blood sugar control) back down into the 6 range. It’s about 8.7. Danger zone for most people is anything over 6.”
Temple’s condition has caused complications with everyday meals. Gardens are a viable option, she said, but even many fruits and vegetables cause her blood sugar to rise. She’s now the Lions diabetic awareness coordinator for Nevada, working in the community to increase outreach and education — teaching Lions and others about diabetes.
“Education is so important,” Temple said. “People have to know what diabetics go through. If they see something, they need to know what to do to help fix it.”