If left untreated, diabetes can wreak havoc on your vision, cause nerve damage, and lead to kidney disease or death in severe cases. The chronic disease affects more than 15 percent of Houston’s adult population, according to Cities Changing Diabetes.
It’s a city health crisis that Betsy Campos is hoping to solve through the city’s Diabetes Awareness and Wellness Network center.
“Our main focus is on helping people build the right skillset to be able to manage their diabetes,” said Campos, a public health educator for DAWN, which offers free wellness programming to members with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes.
Campos, who joined the city as an intern and was hired full time nearly a year ago, is passionate about the plight of people dealing with the onset of diabetes who turn to the DAWN center for help.
“I love being there and helping members reach their goals,” Campos said.
And it shows.
Working toward change
Every week, Campos prepares for her Prevent T2 class session. The class is part of a yearlong lifestyle change program for people with prediabetes, or those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
“I’m really trying to see how I can impact these people,” said Campos of DAWN members who enroll in the free Prevent T2 program.
The program aims to have participants lose five to seven percent of their weight and increase their exercise to 150 minutes a week. Campos class is held each Tuesday at the DAWN center.
As class begins, Campos greets members who begin taking turns talking about the challenges they faced over the past week. Campos listens attentively and offers words of encouragement to those who speak of losing motivation.
But for the most part, it’s the members who speak. It’s obvious they’ve formed a bond with each other and Campos.
“Classes are very interactive,” Campos said. “I just try to focus on how they are doing with their action plans and goals.”
Each week, members create an action plan and log their physical activity and eating.
Campos calls each member to the side during class. She records their weight and checks their activity logs.
What might ordinarily be an uncomfortable moment in the doctor’s office is more akin to a mentor and mentee session, with Campos smiling and offering advice.
“It’s definitely a challenge making a lifestyle change,” said Campos, who has also made a commitment to work out and eat healthy in hopes of setting a good example for members.
After fielding questions and talking about goals and action plans, Campos changes the conversation. She lets members know they are not alone in their struggles to make lifestyle changes.
That’s when Adriana Perez walks in. A yearlong member, Perez has come to talk about her experience with the DAWN center and its programs. After a quick introduction, Perez begins to share her story.
“Diabetes affects you in so many ways,” Perez said. “Once you realize all the ways it can affect you, you start to pay more attention to things.”
After being diagnosed with diabetes more than a year ago, Perez was referred to the DAWN center. She enrolled in a T2 class and began the process of educating herself.
“I wanted to learn more,” said Perez about her diagnosis. “I felt like I needed the support.”
Since becoming a member, Perez has lost 14 pounds. She visits the DAWN center weekly to attend various classes.
“They gave you the tools and encouragement that people need to succeed,” Perez said of her journey to get her diabetes under control with the support of the DAWN center’s staff and programs.
“We encourage people and try to give them motivation to take control of their health,” Campos said.
It’s not long before Perez, Campos and class participants are exchanging stories and tips.
After class, Campos helps out at the front desk doing walk-in consults and referring individuals to DAWN’s staff of nurses, public health educators, nutritionists, medical assistants and counselors.
“They come in and I sit down with them and let them know what the resources are,” Campos said.
"Let’s say they want to see the nutritionist and improve on their healthy eating. I will schedule an appointment so they can see the nutritionist,” Campos said. “We give them a list of things that might benefit them and we guide them through what classes they should be starting.”
Each month the DAWN center offers a variety of classes, including diabetes self-management, Zumba, a walking club, cooking classes, and a newly launched Diabetes Prevention Program class, which was structured by the Centers for Disease Control and tailored to people who are prediabetic.
Along with consults and her class, Campos translates class curriculums into Spanish and manages members’ health data. But it’s the connection Campos makes with members that really inspire her.
“We’ve had members tell us without us they don’t know where they’d be and how to manage,” Campos said. “That feels amazing to hear. It makes your heart grow and gives you that motivation to keep doing the job you’re doing.
“If you have a great resource, why not use it,” Campos said of the DAWN center’s free programming and services. “You never know how this could help you.”