The current methods of managing diabetes are clearly not working too well. Millions of people develop the disease and die of complications every year. Now, some San Antonio clinics are helping test a new way to manage this chronic condition with the help of partners.

When you mention diabetes management, you think about regular checks at the doctor s office and medications to help control the disease.

When you go to a doctor, said patient Anita Acosta, a lot of it doesn t stay with you. I mean, I get nervous even now coming to my doctor.

We deal with the physical realm, explained WellMed VP clinical program administrator Michelle Henry, RN. And we don t have a lot of time in our clinic environment to deal with the social and emotional impacts of chronic disease.

Now, Acosta and dozens of other San Antonians are helping test an innovative approach to managing their disease. It s a peer mentoring program called Care Companions. 13 WellMed clinics are spending a quarter of a million dollars in grant money over the next three years to train 300 diabetics. These volunteers will help others just like them.

Yvonne Garza is Acosta s partner. She makes me feel like it s okay to mess up, Garza said. Not like a doctor where they re on you all the time and telling you don t do this and don t do that. To where if I tell he oh, I had a candy bar this weekend, she s like that s okay, it happens.

The classroom lessons use lots of visuals to emphasize the need to control fat and sugar intake. Dishing out lard and sugar cubes equal to the meals they might eat is a sobering exercise. So is handling the equivalent of five pounds of body fat.

Partners share their victories and defeats and keep each other accountable using journals and test results. Both parties seem to benefit.

Now, I can do it for myself, Acosta stated. Not everything, but a good part of it, I can do for myself. And I m happy with that.

You don t feel so overwhelmed by the disease and everything because you know you re not the only one out there, Garza added.

The American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation and Eli Lilly are funding this research project. Bexar County s a natural testing ground, since our rate of diabetes here is almost twice the national average. WellMed is hopeful peer mentoring will be an effective weapon in this ongoing health battle.

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