Residents of the Enoch Cree Nation are benefiting from a monthly diabetes clinic, as a specialist helps them control their blood sugars.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2014 there were 422 million people living with diabetes.
The disease is especially common in First Nations communities – where people are three to five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to the average Canadian.
Zachery McDonald was a lethargic kid, growing up in Enoch.
His mother, Joanne McDonald, remembered when she became worried he might have diabetes.
“I think he was about 12, and just constantly drinking and getting up in the middle of the night and having to go to the bathroom,” she said.
She checked Zachery’s blood sugar and was concerned right away.
“Apparently it was at an extremely high rate. At a dangerous level even,” he recalled.
He was quickly taken to the Stollery Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
The family has been plagued by the disease – Zachery’s father, grandparents and sisters have all been diagnosed.
“We’ve experienced a lot of deaths in the last five years from diabetes-related complications,” Joanne said.
“I was frustrated, confused, scared, angry. I’m not going to be growing up like a normal kid should,” Zachery said.
He admits he didn’t take his diabetes seriously until Dr. Jeff Winterstein came to Enoch years later and delivered a blunt message.
“He said, ‘at this point, you’re going to be in the hospital in a few years, and three years after that, you’re going to die’,” Zachery explained.
It was a wake-up call for the new father. He was prescribed different medication and started using it consistently.
“I’m not just taking care of myself now. I’m taking care of myself for my son.”
Dr. Winterstein said he was informed of a need for his services just over a year ago.
“There was a large disparity among diabetics in Enoch compared to diabetics in Edmonton and Enoch is just 15 minutes away. The prevalence of above knee, below knee amputations was way out of whack.”
Diabetes can lead to a lack of sensation in the feet, which can lead to injuries that lead to infections and potentially, limbs eventually being amputated.
Dr. Winterstein started coming to the First Nation once a month. At first, the clinic was slow-going.
“First Nations populations in particular may be resistant to change, may have a trust issue – especially with modern medicine,” he explained. “We started off with 10 patients scheduled at the first clinic. Maybe three showed up.”
Now, he regularly has 18 appointments and a handful of other people drop in, looking for help.
Zachery’s mother is grateful for Dr. Winterstein’s expertise.
“To be honest, they have an extension on their life,” she said. “No parent wants to have to bury their child. It’s a great piece of mind.”