"To learn a lifestyle of change that will make living with diabetes manageable."

That's the explanation Lauri Price, an RN at St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, Coaldale, uses to describe the purpose of a new 10-hour diabetes education program being taught at various locations in Schuylkill and Carbon county by members of the St. Luke's Miners Diabetes Education Center.

The accreditation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) will allow residents and students increased access to critical diabetes education services, to include group classes utilizing the "Living Well with Diabetes" curriculum. Developed by the St. Luke's Center for Diabetes and Endrocrinology in Center Valley, it consists of two hours of individual counseling and four two hour group classes.

The pilot classes, being taught by Price and Jennifer Gross, RD, LDN, both of St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, are currently being held at the Morgan Campus, Lehigh Carbon Community College, in Tamaqua. Class topics include: Facts About Diabetes, Nutrition and Carb Counting, Medication, and Advanced Nutrition.

Hollie Gibbons, manager of Disease Prevention Programs at St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network, said that a recent Community Health Needs Assessment done by St. Luke's showed higher rates of diabetes in our area compared to state and national averages.

"There are no other certified diabetes education programs in the area, and we are happy to offer this needed program to the community," she said.

"The benefits of this program are immense," said student Jim Szczecina of Summit Hill, who has had marginal diabetes for about three years. "I thought it would get better, but it didn't."

"I've been living with diabetes for about three years now and have neuropathy in my left foot which stemmed from an infection in two of my toes. I do my best to follow a good diet, watch my carbohydrates and exercise as much as I can.

"The St. Luke's staff are wonderful and fitting to what I need. This was too good of a program to pass up," added Szczecina, who is the first person in his family to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Price said that recent studies have indicated that early detection and treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes.

"Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless at first," Price said. "People need to strive harder to be their own advocate when dealing with diabetes."

"I figured it out myself and was eventually diagnosed after I went to my doctor," said student Michelle Hill, MaryD, who was first diagnosed with diabetes in 1993. "I know the importance of controlling blood sugar levels. Prior to these classes, I really never learned how to count carbs properly."

Hill said that diabetes runs in her family.

Price pointed out the importance of setting realistic goals, enlisting support from friends and family, rewarding yourself for progress and knowing when to get help.

Throughout the year, classes will be held at nine locations St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital in Coaldale; Lehigh Carbon Community College in Tamaqua and Nesquehoning; McAdoo Fire Company; St. Luke's Miners Diabetes Education Center in Nesquehoning; Panther Valley Public Library in Lansford,; Rep. Doyle Heffley's office in Lehighton; and the St. Luke's Sports and Rehabilitation Center in Jim Thorpe.

"Typically, most insurances will cover the 10-hour classes," said Micah Gursky, Director of Development, St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital in Coaldale.

The next class is scheduled to begin on April 16 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the McAdoo Fire Company. To inquire about this class or future classes in your community, please call the St. Luke's Miners Diabetes Education Center at (570) 669-9868.

"Control what you can," Price advised. "You can't do anything about aging, but you can still become more active, eat healthier and better educate yourself on how to live with diabetes."