Gifford’s partnerships extend across the state, including the State of Vermont itself. Through the state-funded program, My Healthy Vermont, Gifford offers several free workshops led by coaches who understand the participant’s needs, because many of the coaches have faced the same health challenges.
“Coaches have a huge role in these workshops,” says Regional Coordinator for the self-management programs, Noreen Fordham. “Coaches share and bring the written material to life.”
No one exemplifies this more than Cynthia Thurston. Cynthia is a former participant in the Diabetes Prevention Workshop. Through the series, she lost close to 70 pounds and that positive change inspired her to coach others.
“My life has changed in so many ways and to have the opportunity to share that with people and help them make the same choices that I made, through the program, has just been great,” Thurston said.
Thurston’s coaching in the My Healthy Vermont Workshops is making a difference in the lives of community members. Three examples are Jeff Bradley, Paul Grandy and Theresa Symancyk.
At 422 pounds, it was difficult for Jeff Bradley to do even the most routine tasks comfortably. He knew long-term health problems were in his future if he didn’t get a handle on his weight. He noticed an ad for the year-long Diabetes Prevention Workshop that focuses on solving problems like how to make healthier eating choices and the best way to get physical activity into your everyday life. The Diabetes Prevention workshop can cut the risk of type 2 diabetes by more than half. It is part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“You’re in this workshop with others who are in similar situations as I am. Meeting weekly, you form a real bond with those people,” Bradley said.
Eighteen months from the start of the course, led by Thurston, Bradley lost a remarkable 228 pounds.
“Without Gifford and the Diabetes Prevention Workshop, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Bradley said. “It’s completely changed my life.
Bradley saved himself from a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. However, for people like Paul Grandy who have been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Gifford and My Healthy Vermont offer a Diabetes Management Workshop. Once Grandy was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he realized lifestyle changes needed to be made. Grandy learned about the program, signed up, and four months into the six-month program has lost close to a dozen pounds. Grandy’s A1c levels dropped to pre-diabetes range. The healthier habits have also had an effect on Grandy’s blood pressure as he no longer needs to take blood pressure medication.
“Losing the weight and having lower blood pressure has taken a lot of pressure off my feet, knees and back,” Grandy said. “Through lifestyle changes, coaching, and dietitian assistance, you can turn it around.”
Theresa Symancyk also took the Diabetes Management Workshop through Gifford, led by Cynthia Thurston. Through that program, Symancyk learned Gifford and My Healthy Vermont also offers a Blood Pressure Management Workshop. The timing couldn’t have been better for Symancyk who saw her blood pressure numbers creep up higher and higher over the last few years.
“They weren’t reaching a dire point, but I did have to buy a blood pressure cuff to monitor it at home,” Theresa said.
The two-month Blood Pressure Management Workshop meets weekly for an hour and a half. In this case, the goal is for the participant to take control of their blood pressure at home.
“The blood pressure class is very similar to the diabetes class because to be successful in both areas you need to get more exercise and eat better,” Symancyk said. “I now keep vegetables and fruits in the front of my refrigerator.”
Symancyk goes to the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction three times a week for exercise and takes a walk in her neighborhood every Sunday. Thurston not only provides coaching but acts as a cheerleader encouraging Symancyk to keep at those good habits.
“I can go in some weeks and think, ‘Oh boy, I didn’t do very well this week,’ and she would point out the good things I did,” Symancyk said. “I don’t feel like I’m an expert by any means, but I have made a lot of improvements in the areas I needed to.”
“Seeing many success stories come from these classes makes teaching them extremely rewarding,” Fordham said. “It’s hard not to brag about those success stories. These classes work and I want each person to succeed and be proud of their success.”
The work doesn’t stop after the series is over. Now educated on how to care for themselves in their everyday lives, participants will get the occasional status check from coach Thurston.
“I know one of Cynthia’s groups still gets together to hike, have coffee or just meet up to catch up even though the class ended 2 years ago,” Fordham said. “Sometimes lasting friendships form from these groups.”
The free My Healthy Vermont workshops are just another way Gifford works with others to help the individual. But what makes these workshops so special is that you have coaches and participants partnering up in the course to reach a common goal.
“You meet great people. You form solid support groups. You change habits that lead to a family’s change in habits,” Thurston said. “There’s a wealth of information out there and I would encourage anyone to tap into that.”
To learn more about My Healthy Vermont workshops at Gifford, you can contact Noreen Fordham, Regional Coordinator for Self-Management Programs at (802) 728-7714. You can also join upcoming workshops
by visiting: myhealthyvt.org.