Diabetics Learn Their Lessons

Originally Published:
The Clarion Ledger – Jackson, Miss.
Author: Shanderia K Posey
Date: Jan 27, 2009

Doctor creates classes to help patients manage chronic disease

By Shanderia K. Posey


When was the last time your doctor cooked a dish for you as part of your treatment plan? Ask diabetic patients of Dr. Wayne Woo of the Diabetes and Endocrine Institute in Flowood, and they’ll answer, “Every week.”

Woo, an endocrinologist and certified diabetes educator, opened the clinic in 2005 intent on administering comprehensive and educational treatment of diabetes.

“It’s a chronic disease, and it’s not just about giving them medications,” Woo said. “We have to motivate the patients. We have to understand them.”

As part of their treatment, Woo’s patients are required to attend Monday evening two-hour classes held in a dining hall at the back of the clinic. He teaches them nutrition, exercise, lifestyle changes, self-management and motivation.

And he’s not just handing out paperwork, either. Attendees get quizzed on the amount of starch, carbohydrates and fiber in foods as well as how to go grocery shopping, interpret food labels, eat out and more. Right answers result in applause with maracas and rewards of grocery shopping freebies. Patients get gonged for wrong answers – literally.

“I like his apparatuses (in the classes),” said Catherine Harris, 57, of Jackson, a music major alumna of Jackson State University. “I thought it was too cute. It added excitement to the class.”

Woo was treating Harris for a thyroid condition when she began to show classic symptoms of diabetes such as fatigue. A year ago, she was diagnosed with Type II diabetes that she says was brought on by stress and eating as much of what she wanted, when she wanted.

“I was really depressed about it,” Harris said. No one in her family has the disease. But Woo’s instruction is making a difference.

“He’s very informative and doesn’t rush you. The classes are inviting and fun. I just like his method and his concern about his patients,” she said.

Woo developed his own curriculum for six main classes; three are repeatedly offered. They cost about $10-$15 each, and everything is billed to insurance. In his coursework, patients get to know fictional characters “Average Joe,” who has Type II diabetes; “Skinny Jimmy,” who has Type 1 and “Pregnant Sue,” who has gestational diabetes.

Basically, his patients strive not to be like any of the characters.

He also offers special programs throughout the year. A Chinese New Year program is set for Feb. 23, to teach patients how to cook healthy Chinese food.

Woo and wife, Pat, cook healthful, tasty foods to serve at every class. He spends his weekends mastering desserts such as a low-calorie, low-sugar cheesecake, pound cake or chiffon cake. Pat creates diabetic-friendly entrees.

She is just as involved and passionate about helping the patients. She works in the lab of the clinic and holds degrees in biochemistry, microbiology and immunology. Experimenting with foods comes naturally for her as the daughter of a retired gourmet chef/restaurant owner.

Pat revamped cornbread dressing by using tofu instead of bread. People were coming back for second and third servings, she said. At the weekly classes, she’s on hand to offer cooking tips such as only using fresh herbs and growing sweet basil.

“If anybody would listen to him and do what he says, their lifestyle would be different,” said Deloris Greer, 66, of Jackson. Greer also has Type II diabetes and was referred to the doctor about 10 years ago.

She attended all of the classes last year but recently slipped on managing the disease and decided to attend the classes again.

“The hardest part Ihave is fruit. He doesn’t want you to have any fruit or juices,” Greer said. But she’s learned to know portion sizes, avoid saturated fats, count carbohydrates and use smaller plates when eating to avoid consuming too much.

Fred Parsons, 55, of Hazlehurst has become enlightened on how to manage the disease he’s battled for 20 years. He first saw Dr. Woo a year ago.

“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Parsons said. “I have a real hard time with diet because I drive a truck. The truck stop food is not making it.”

Parsons checks his blood sugar more often now, which is another requirement for all of Woo’s patients. They must use special monitors that store up to 300 readings and bring the monitors to Woo on regular visits so he can print the results. Typically, diabetic patients get their A1C level – average glucose over a period of time – checked every three months. Woo uses the daily reading results to get a clearer picture of how well a patient is managing.

A goal A1C level is 6.5, but that doesn’t mean all is well, he said. He also checks for weight gain or abnormal blood pressure.

Even with a high A1C, “you have to find out why it’s high instead of adding more insulin or pills,” he said.

His comprehensive approach to treatment is evident when patients enter the cheerful lobby of the clinic. He has a knack for decorating and used Asian Tiger tile for the floors and accented the soft, yellow walls with Asian artwork and photos of cherry blossoms to express the clinic’s motto of “Hope, Healing and Health.” The clinic’s symbol is the cherry blossom to indicate renewal because the plant blossoms once a year.

He’s the only doctor on staff along with a dietitian and medical assistants who perform bone scans, stress tests and more.

He hopes to help other Mississippians with his approach, especially considering more than 234,000 Mississippians were diagnosed with diabetes in 2006.

“It’s very difficult to treat diabetes in Mississippi. It has to do with the culture and the way people eat. Eating is a way of life down here,” he said.

As soon as he and Pat master more recipes, he plans to write a cookbook. He says a lot of diabetic recipes “don’t turn out right.”

“There’s always more we can do.”