these children are educators," said Cassandra Stouder, diabetes
coordinator for the Tonto Apache Tribe.
Tashina Smith couldn't a
She is a young mother from
the tribe who never took her diabetes seriously until her son Isaac
"Once my son got here, everything
changed," she said.
Tashina attended the Pathways
Health Fair on Saturday, Feb. 23 with her extended family, most
of whom suffer from diabetes.
"We don't have a small family,"
she said, "Each night we have seven over for dinner ... and most
Stouder held the health fair
to educate tribal members and employees of the casino on how to
recognize, understand the consequences and control diabetes.
"I hope it opens up their
eyes it's not something you can push aside," said Tashina.
"It's day in and day out. It does not go away ... but we love our
traditional foods, fry bread, spam, tortillas ..."
Tashina said she was married
for over seven years when she discovered to her surprise she was
pregnant. Her family was ecstatic, but she learned quickly the consequences
of uncontrolled Type II diabetes on her pregnancy.
"I had to go to a high-risk
pregnancy specialist in Phoenix," she said.
Despite seeing the specialist
OBGYN that sent her to a nutritionist who worked specifically with
diabetic pregnancies twice a week, Isaac was born nine weeks early.
During the pregnancy, Tashina suffered through preeclampsia and
an amniotic fluid infection.
"It was scary," she said.
Yet, she takes full responsibility.
"I did not take care of myself
before I got pregnant," she said of her diet, weight and lack of
Dr. Alan Michels connected
the dots for the attendees on the health impact of diabetes.
"It starts with sugars surrounding
individual blood cells," he said.
The sugar surrounding the
blood cell makes the blood thicker, which makes it collect in the
tiny capillaries that serve nerves.
"When you cut yourself, you
don't see the nerves because they are so tiny," said Michels. "These
veins that serve the nerves are too tiny to see with your eyes."
The lack of blood flow creates
a host of problems, including nerve deadening and an inability to
heal from infection.
Tashina said that her grandmother's
mother died from a simple cut to her leg because the infection got
out of control due to her diabetes.
Michels said other complications
of diabetes include blindness, high blood pressure and organ failure.
To back up Michels' message,
Stouder invited nurses, health educators and a dentist to attend
the fair. Attendees filled out a punch card as they walked around
the room to get their blood pressure taken, learn about nutritional
choices and hear about the consequences to teeth and dental health
However, Tashina said what
really made the difference to her family was her son.
"We need to be there for
him," she said of the family beginning to make healthy choices to
control their diabetes.
Tashina worries about her
sister who already suffers from diabetes, but finds it difficult
to do what's necessary to remain healthy.
Tashina said what makes it
so hard for her and her sister is that every bite of food a diabetic
takes has to be thought out. Each day, diabetics must do exercise.
It gets overwhelming, but
"He gets my sister up and
running after him," said Tashina.
Isaac also helps her grandmother.
Tashina's grandmother, who
now uses a walker and suffers problems with her feet and nerves,
adores her grandson, who inspires her to take better care of herself.
To cap off the health fair,
Stouder had world champion hoop dancer Brian Hammill and his family
perform. The performers got the audience up and participating
even one of the tribal police officers.
Hammill said the hoop dance
saved him from drinking a six-pack of alcohol and smoking three
packs of cigarettes a day.
changed my life. Getting involved with something like this can change
yours," he said.
Isaac watched everything
with eyes wide. He got so into the dancing that he wandered onto
the center of the dance floor. Tashina's sister had to quickly leap
out to scoop him up and bring him to safety.
Everyone laughed, even the
After Isaac cleared the floor,
Hammill's two children, ages 7 and 9, came out to set-up the hoops
to do the dance. Hammill called this the primary version of the
hoop dance, intended to inspire the children attending the health
fair to dance.
"We have a different attitude
about our children they are today's learners, but also tomorrow's
teachers," he said.
As Hammill's children danced,
so did Isaac.