MARQUETTE — It’s pretty difficult to not feel comfortable in the same room with Mike Parks. The UPHS — Marquette Director of Diabetes Education and Nutrition and Wellness loves to talk, but it’s his easygoing voice and his habit of smiling between every other sentence that gives him the ability to put anyone at ease.
Still, when he meets with a newly-diagnosed diabetes patient, there can be some apprehension in the patient’s mind. For all the respect the patient may have for Mike’s knowledge and work background, the person may still feel they can’t relate from their own personal experience.
“There are times when they say, ‘Well, you don’t understand. You’re just preaching,” Mike said.
And that’s when Parks decides to open up and show he’s more than just an educator; he’s an example of what you can achieve while managing your own diabetes.
“I don’t tell every patient, but as soon as I pull that card, you can tell they feel comfortable around me,” said Mike, who has Type 1 diabetes. “They feel comfortable to tell me things about themselves, and they believe a lot about what I say. Having diabetes does make it so I can relate to those patients.”
At 22, Mike had just finished his second year of nursing school and lived an active, healthy lifestyle. He played Division III hockey at Finlandia University and had no other health risks.
“I was always the kid who was going to the doctor office and they’d say my blood pressure is great, labs look good and everything was good,” Mike said.
Mike was limited that summer of 2006 with shoulder surgery; he was stuck in a sling and unable to earn a regular wage that summer like the rest of his college peers. After six weeks, he started to notice he was going to the bathroom more than usual. He thought it was a urinary tract infection, or maybe he was just drinking too many fluids before going to bed.
Q: When were you diagnosed with diabetes?
Mike Parks: I was having these symptoms but I figured I had to make some money before I got back to school. I went to donate plasma at BioLife, and I started talking to a nurse there. They did a urine test because of all the symptoms I told them: excessive urination, excessive thirst, weight loss and fatigue. They checked my urine and I had 4-plus glucose in my urine. They told me at that point it’s a very high chance you have diabetes, and they told me to go to the emergency department. I went there a couple hours later and immediately saw I had Type 1 diabetes. From that first night of being admitted at the hospital, I was taught survival skills such as how to check my blood sugar, take insulin, treat low blood sugar and keep myself out of diabetic ketoacidosis.
What was the shock factor of hearing that?
My realization when things were changing was when I went to the pharmacy after I had been discharged. I got discharged, went to pick up my blood glucose meter, my insulins, syringes, glucagon, ketone test strips — all the supplies I would need. I went there and my insurance wasn’t covering any of it. There was some kind of lapse in it, so I had this huge bill. I went from no health issues to owing $600. I started to realize, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ The first day was not hard. It was the first time I went to pick up stuff and realized this was my new way of life.
You have Type 1 diabetes, but what is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2?
Type 1 diabetes is usually an auto-immune attack on beta cells of the pancreas that make insulin which results in absolute insulin deficiency. It used to be called juvenile onset diabetes because it’s more common to happen in your younger years. But it can really happen throughout your lifespan. I was 22. I know people that have been in their 40s and beyond that that have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Auto-immune means the body attacks your cells that make insulin and then they either decrease or stop insulin production. The only treatment for Type 1 diabetes is insulin because insulin is a hormone that we can’t live without. We need it for our body to be able to use glucose as energy.
Type 2 diabetes is what we see mostly. It’s growing at a very rapid rate. It’s probably the target area because 90-95 percent of diabetes is Type 2. You have a higher risk from certain ethnic backgrounds, family history but it’s more well-known to be related to issues with weight, activity, and eating habits. You can develop insulin resistance, so your body requires more insulin to allow your body to use glucose for energy. Over time, your pancreas can’t keep up and starts to produce less insulin. They also believe that the pancreas continues to produce less and less insulin despite treatment. At diagnosis for Type 2, they believe 50-80 percent of the cells that made insulin doesn’t make insulin anymore. We work on lifestyle management because weight maintenance has shown longterm to be the most helpful to treat Type 2 diabetes. Without good nutrition and good activity, it’s very hard to lose weight.
What kind of changes did you experience right away after being diagnosed?
The first couple weeks were really hard. It seemed like my sugar levels were running very high and fluctuated a lot. Then my tongue turned white with thrush. At that point, I decided to talk to June Wickstorm who was a nurse at the time and is now a case manager at the hospital. She was a neighbor of mine and I went over to see her. She asked me what my sugar levels were running and what I was currently taking for medication. She assessed the situation and set me up with Dr. Grossman and Marli Carlson who is a diabetes educator. And from that point on, they had me on a much better plan of basal-bolus insulin.
At first, I cut almost all carbohydrates but was losing too much weight. After seeing my doctor and diabetes educator, they said, ‘No, no, we will control your sugars by giving you insulin to cover the carbohydrates you eat rather than cutting them.’ I was then able to go back into a normal lifestyle and dose for the things I’m doing. I was diagnosed in July, and in August I was back up at Finlandia University playing hockey and fully back into my nursing curriculum.
Entering the medical field
If you thought this was the moment when Mike decided he wanted to become a diabetes educator, well, we’re not quite there yet. But his reasoning for entering the medical profession would play a part in his future.
Before Mike completed a four-year hockey career at Finlandia that saw him finish with 117 points in 97 games, he competed at the Junior A level where he competed against future pros such as Sidney Crosby — yes, that Sidney Crosby. And it was here in Montana that the idea of working in the healthcare industry was birthed.
What was the deciding factor that made you pursue nursing?
I talked to a friend that was in nursing school, and he talked about the benefits of it. He said there’s jobs everywhere you go, and you get to help people. I’ve always really liked to help people; I like to educate, and I really enjoy the idea of all the different areas of nursing you can go. Having the security of being able to get jobs anywhere and the vast variety of jobs in nursing, that really intrigued me a lot.
How did you find your way into working in diabetes education?
Once I became a nurse, I worked downstate in an emergency department. We had several kids in their 20s that were newly-diagnosed with diabetes. When I was working, they would say, ‘Hey Mike, do you mind going in there and showing them your insulin pen, your blood glucose meter and kind of talk to them just a little bit about what your days are like? Tell them that it’s OK and you’ll move on from this.’ Once that happened, I looked into becoming a diabetes educator.
At first, I wanted to get a lot of my nursing experience, so I worked in the emergency department for three years. I came up to Marquette and worked in the Cath Lab for five years, cross-trained ICU, cross-trained to Echo. Once I had my first child, I realized it was time to make that change. The position for the inpatient diabetes educator had popped open. I did that for three years until there was a position that opened up as the director in that same department. As a director, I could start to learn how to be a leader, learn the business side of things but eventually be able to mold this program into the vision I see for diabetes care in the UP, and make it as strong as we can that we draw from the entire UP for good diabetes and nutrition care.
His role at UPHS
Mike’s department includes inpatient and outpatient dietitians as well as inpatient and outpatient diabetes educators. This group also services other clinics, and it’s Mike’s responsibility to monitor the daily operations of the department. He oversees scheduling, daily budgets, transitions and joint commission readiness, all while attempting to strengthen and broaden the services his department provides, in addition to discovering the best treatment options for his patients.
“Not only do we educate, but we also create patient-centered goals and try to figure out what works,” Mike said. “We’d like you to work on activity, diet and weight maintenance, and not everyone is looking to do all of that stuff, so we have to keep the patient’s goals in mind. If you try to get someone to do lifestyle changes that they’re not ready for, they likely won’t make them. If you give them options or choice and allow them to decide what lifestyle changes they’re willing to make and work around that, they’re much more likely to make the change.
“The reason I got into diabetes education is that I have diabetes, so I like to be able to talk to people. It’s an every-day disease; you have to make a lot of decisions throughout the day to take care of your diabetes. Nutrition-related, medication-related, activity-related, weight maintenance and stress maintenance — all of that stuff goes into it.
“I’ve been able to find peace with diabetes and live a normal lifestyle while taking care of my health. Because of that, I don’t want to get away from patients with being a director. I still want to be involved with patients. I still do help out with inpatient days and I do see some outpatients.”
It’s the personal interactions and seeing firsthand the impact he can make that Parks enjoys the most. In one case, a person newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes had high sugar levels where, along with lifestyle management, insulin needed to be started right away. After being treated, the patient responded well to treatment. A few months later, he called Parks to offer thanks.
“He said, ‘Mike, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. I really enjoyed my interaction with you. You just told me what I needed to know, and you made me feel confident that things were going to be OK,’ “ Mike said. “That means a lot.”
What are the kinds of things you share with your patients? How do you try to let them know you relate to what they’re going through?
When I first took over as inpatient educator, one of the first people that had new Type 1 diabetes was a 22-year old. I said, ‘Wow, does this bring flashbacks.’ I shared that with them and said, ‘Look where I am now. I went through nursing school, played college hockey, got married, had kids and I’m still living the life I dreamed of. I said one thing I decided a long time ago was that, yes, there’s a lot of complications with diabetes and you can fear that forever. I always said that I was going to take diabetes for a ride. It’s not going to take me for a ride.
Sharing that with people and showing what I’ve been able to accomplish with Type 1 diabetes, I think it helps them see that, yes, it’s a huge change, a big deal, this is going to affect me the rest of my life, but look at that, I’m going to be fine.