(L to R) ​Dr. Scott Beach, Family Physician

Jill McWilliam, Primary Care Nurse,

Ralph Hodgins, Patient

It seems only fitting that Ralph Hodgins' journey with diabetes began at the Calgary International Airport.

It was while working there as a white hat volunteer greeting and assisting travellers that the affable retired elementary school principal began to notice a tingling and burning sensation in his feet.

"I tried different shoes and socks but nothing worked," he shrugged. A visit to his doctor revealed that he had neuropathy, a long-term complication of diabetes that causes damage to the nerves leading to the arms, hands, legs and feet.

"I honestly didn't know that I had diabetes," he said. "I wasn't running to the bathroom, I didn't have excessive thirst…I just had sore feet."

Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Ralph was placed on Metformin, an oral diabetes medicine to help control his blood sugar levels. However, he struggled with his weight and his blood sugars levels, also known as A1C, remained a challenge.

In 2005 his doctor retired and Ralph began his new long-standing relationship with CWC PCN family physician, Dr. Scott Beach.

"At that time his measurement outcomes for diabetes were not to target, " explained Dr. Beach. "We looked at his medications and tried to reinforce more discipline in his diet and more regularity to his exercise, but it was difficult. I couldn't spend enough time with him to maintain momentum and his progress was slow."

The addition of Jill McWilliam, a PCN nurse, to Dr. Beach's office marked a turning point in Ralph's care. A chronic disease management nurse, she met with him regularly to track his progress, improve monitoring and encourage healthier lifestyle choices. He was also started on insulin and referred to a pharmacist for further support.

"When I first met Ralph his biggest challenge was weight management and lifestyle," explained Jill. "He would indulge in dessert every night and eat based on convenience. He'd come back from a holiday or trip with a sheepish look because he'd gained weight or because his A1C levels were too high."

To help reinforce his lifestyle, Ralph was invited to join other patients in sessions hosted by Jill and Dr. Beach monthly at the CWC PCN's Primary Care Centre. These peer support sessions included an introduction to diabetes, healthy eating, physical activity and so on.

"They were good, particularly for somebody who's newly diagnosed. I think the real value is that you all learn from one another," said Ralph.

Ultimately, it was a lesson well taken. Sixty pounds lighter, Ralph now does aquasize four times a week, spends ten minutes on a treadmill after meals and is mindful of what he eats.

"Once he made that realization he really started walking the talk," Jill enthused. "At the beginning he was sheepish-Ralph who would come in with a high A1C, but now he speaks with confidence and he is really focused on his health."

Dr. Scott Beach continues to meet with Ralph every four months and sees a difference in his long-time patient.

"His targets are certainly much better," explains Dr. Beach. "He's more consistent in his blood sugar measurements, his neuropathy is feeling better and his body mass has diminished."

And Ralph is committed to walking the talk.

"If there was a pill for willpower, that's all I would need quite frankly," he smiles. "But there isn't such a thing, so I know what I have to do. And when I get really good readings, I know that I've been successful."