Thursday, July 1, 2010

Car stickers could help diabetics get help faster

By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 1, 2010 Diabetics have warning bracelets and wallet cards to alert emergency responders to their health condition, and now they will have car stickers to hasten their chances to get lifesaving care. The Nashville area today joins a growing initiative in Tennessee called "My Diabetes Alert," a free program that provides diagnosed diabetics with a window sticker for their vehicle. It is supposed to make law enforcement and emergency personnel aware that a person who is driving erratically on the road or has been in an accident could be having a diabetic attack. For Josh Overstreet and other diabetics, quick care could mean life or death if blood sugar drops too low or goes too high. "I think it's great that they are coming out with stickers and training law enforcement to be able to know how to help a diabetic," said Overstreet, who blacked out a year ago while driving when his blood sugar dropped too low. The 25-year-old Hermitage resident drove into five cars, finally stopping after he hit a retaining wall. Baptist Hospital in Nashville and Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro are heading up the local sticker program in a joint effort with the founders, Wellmont Health System in Northeast Tennessee. The hospitals believe that at least 10,000 people would be eligible to get the sticker. Any diagnosed diabetic can sign on to the program, with documentation from a doctor. Tennessee has among the highest diabetes rates in the country, with more than 13 percent of people suffering from the chronic condition. "It's a serious thing," said Mary Gaines, program director for Baptist and Middle Tennessee Medical Center diabetes centers. "The more we do to educate people about ways to take care of diabetes, the more we improve chances that they will get the best help possible at the most crucial moment." 'Educate community' My Diabetes Alert began in Northeast Tennessee in three counties — Hawkins, Washington and Sullivan — in November 2009. More than 2,000 stickers have been distributed in those counties, which have among the highest concentrations of diabetes in the state, ranging up to nearly 16 percent of the population, said Jim Perkins, diabetes program director for Wellmont. "We were seeing more people with hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic events while on the roadways, and we developed this window sticker to help folks with diabetes," said Perkins, who also is a member of the state diabetes advisory council. "We want law enforcement to be aware of this, and to educate the community." Some people aren't aware of the symptoms of a diabetic attack. Victims may be dizzy, confused, nervous, agitated or drowsy. They also could have fruity breath or start to vomit. In Overstreet's case, his blood sugar levels had dropped to 27, well below the ideal 80 to 120 range. His blood sugar kit inside his car eventually alerted the police officer who followed him that he might be a diabetic. He suffers from Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, in which the pancreas can't produce insulin. It is different from Type 2 diabetes, which typically appears in middle age and often is connected with obesity. During his erratic driving incident, the police officer thought Overstreet was drunk. "He tried to stop my car, but there isn't much you can do when you have someone passed out behind the wheel," Overstreet said. "He even videotaped me because he thought I was drinking." That's exactly the misconception that Perkins hopes to change for diabetics. Besides stickers, the diabetes alert program also gives police pocket cards on what to look for. "The sticker can be an indicator for law enforcement that something else is going on," Perkins said. Lt. Teddy Douglas with the Tennessee Highway Patrol said it's another tool to help law enforcement officers do their job. "It's a great thing, and it's going to be a big help to emergency medical professional if they get to a crash scene where there is a diabetic," Douglas said. "It may help them get the help they need quicker."

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