About 17 million people in the United States are affected by diabetes and Maritza Aguirre, a nursing major at The University of Texas-Pan American, could join that growing number. Diabetes runs in her family, her dad is diabetic and she is pre-diabetic. Aguirre said attending the 2010 Diabetes Seminar and Health Expo held at the UTPA ballroom on Nov. 11 was an eye opener.
"This is the first time I have ever come to an event like this and it's so informative...I have realized that the quality of life has to change," said Aguirre. "I am going to take everything I have learned back to my family so that we can use the measures of eating healthy and exercising to live a better life."
"We believe we have to provide services like this to our Bronc community, we have a lot of faculty, staff and students who may not have the time to leave campus to get flu shots or medical information," said Maritza Jimenez, health education coordinator for the UTPA Border Health Office. "So we felt that bringing these services to UTPA, so that our University community can be healthy throughout the semester."
Diana Ramirez, RGVDA executive director, said the joint effort served as a way to provide information on diabetes and health screenings free of charge for the faculty, staff and students at UTPA.
"At least one out of four individuals is affected by diabetes or are at risk," said Ramirez. "We're also seeing a lot more children with diabetes...so we want to let people know that this is one of the few diseases that can be prevented with simple solutions, particularly diet and exercise."
Ramirez hopes that overall the event will help people become aware of the different diseases out there and the complications that can come from them, and discover the places and experts who are available if they seek help.
Estella Garcia, a registered dietician from the Diabetes Management Center at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, was one of the 13 exhibitors present at the event to let people know that to maintain a healthy life, more has to be done than just changes in diet and exercise.
"Down here in the Valley we're at a high risk of getting diabetes," Garcia said. "It's important to eat healthy and exercise, but people should also make it a priority to get checkups and test blood sugars, because sometimes people who are diabetic don't even display symptoms."
According to the RGVDA, an estimated 12 million people in the United States have diabetes and don't even know it. However, some symptoms to look out for are frequent urination or infections, unusual thirst and weight loss, extreme hunger, fatigue and irritability, blurred vision, wounds that are slow to heal and tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.
At least half of the exhibitors present offered free health assessments such as blood pressure checks performed by UTPA nursing students, or vision exams done by Buena Vista Optical. Other health checks included glucose and peripheral vascular screenings and hearing tests. The Hidalgo County Health and Human Services also provided flu shots, which were free to the first 50 people and $12 after that, to help protect families during this year's flu season.
Other exhibitors at the expo included the Community Council of the Rio Grande Valley, Medi-Force, New Sound Hearing Aid Centers, Valley Baptist Heart and Vascular Outreach, Women's Clinic of South Texas, Guajira Family Clinic, Yazji H. Monzer, M.D. and Associates, Methodist Health Care Ministries and Ashley's Pediatrics. The exhibitors also donated items such as gift baskets or Accu-Check Blood Glucose Monitoring Systems to raffle as door prizes at the event.
Faculty, staff and students heard from and asked questions regarding diabetes prevention, on-set factors and control from the following Valley physicians: Dr. Enrique Griego, endocrinologist; Dr. Brad Stowers, podiatrist; Mark Gonzalez, cardiologist; and Keith Ramos urologist. Other panel participants included Dr. Sandra Trevino, family nurse practitioner and certified diabetes educator from Mission's Diabetes and Endocrine Center; Dr. Paul Villas, UTPA health and kinesiology professor; Dr. William Santana, doctor in public health and teacher for Coordinated Program in Dietetics at UTPA; Dr. Irmo Marini, UTPA professor of rehabilitative services; and Dr. Noel Oliviera, family practice physician from Doctors Hospital Wound Care.
"I want people to know that diabetes can be prevented and that if you do have diabetes you can still live a happy, full life without complications as long you take care of yourself," Trevino said. "We have a serious problem with diabetes here in the Rio Grande Valley and every year the numbers grow. I believe though that knowledge is power and that education is the key."
Trevino said that if anything is taken away from the discussions by attendees, she hopes it is that people realize that the key to good health lies within themselves, and they have the power to steer their health in the right direction.
For more information on the 2010 Diabetes Seminar and Health Expo or for more information on diabetes, contact the UTPA Border Health Office at (956) 665-8900.