When Rhonda Lokken moved from Seattle to Bemidji in 2018, she weighed 300 lbs. More than three years later, she is down to 210, and she gives a great deal of credit to the people at Sanford Bemidji’s Medical Nutrition Therapy program.
“I’ve been heavy since I was five years old,” Lokken said. “I was always fat and gosh, it’s taken me a long time to kind of get a hold on it. But with the help of Sanford, I finally have the tools that I need to be successful.”
Lokken was diagnosed with diabetes in 2000, and had been using a CPAP machine to sleep at night. But after decades of failed attempts, she started to take control of her weight after meeting with Sue Diaz at Sanford.
“For the first time in my life, I started feeling comfortable, just sort of consciously dealing with being a diabetic,” said Lokken. “I had my head in the sand for probably 20 years. I didn’t want to be known as Rhonda the diabetic and I didn’t want that always associated with me. So I didn’t tell anyone.”
In the patient’s shoes
That’s where Diaz comes in. A nutrition specialist at Sanford Bemidji, Diaz is also a diabetic, and was able to connect with Lokken—and other patients like her—on a more personal level.
“I’m in the same boat,” said Diaz. “I’m not just somebody that’s telling them about a disease that I really don’t have no clue about. I’m in their shoes literally.”
The program, which is accredited by the American Diabetes Association, partners with a patient’s primary care doctor to customize a treatment plan for each individual. In smaller communities like Bemidji, that support can be a game changer. And with other options being so far away, whether it be in the Twin Cities or beyond, Sanford is offering more than just advice.
“It’s so important for them to have that face-to-face contact,” said Alicia Van Den Heuvel, a dietitian at Sanford Bemidji. “It’s important for them to at least have some kind of local contact to help them stay on top of controlling their diabetes. We don’t want to see people go backwards, especially in the times that we’re in now. So I just think, you know, traveling three hours, it’s not doable for a lot of patients.”
For Lokken, the program helped change her diet and provided the emotional support she needed on her weight loss journey as well.
“Encouragement, education and support. A doctor just doesn’t have time to sit with you for an hour, once a month, and talk in depth about what stressors are in your life.”
But Diaz could.
“Each time she came in, she’d drop more weight,” said Diaz. “Blood sugar was getting under control. Less and less insulin. It just feels great. It’s like, ‘Oh, she’s following what we talk about.’”
Hard won results
Now, Lokken has gotten not just her weight under control, but also her diabetes. She is off insulin and other medications she once needed as well. She is also sleeping without a CPAP machine for the first time in more than 10 years.
“I’m proud of myself and I’m proud that I, for once, sort of dealt with this disease,” said Lokken.
Both Lokken and Diaz are quick to compliment the other, and they know Lokken’s success could not have been done alone.
“Every time I go see her, I come out of there just feeling real positive,” said Lokken.
“It’s a teamwork approach,” said Diaz. “It can’t be just me and the doctor. The patient’s got to be in there with it and agreeable to do all this stuff too.”
Rhonda Lokken has done it, and expects to continue with her newer, healthier lifestyle, alongside Sue Diaz and Sanford’s nutrition program.
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