We share numerous stories here at the ‘Mine about diabetes across the globe, and how many in our community are doing what they can to help those in need worldwide. Today, we’re excited to share a first-hand account of a fellow type 1 and friend here in Indianapolis, who spent three weeks this summer on a mission trip to Mozambique, Africa. Her aim: to help develop a health plan for the people in that Third World country.
I’ve been privileged to know Lori Pierson and her husband, David, for several years now thanks to our local Indy Adult D-Community meetups. Lori was diagnosed with type 1 as a kid, 32 years ago in 1982. She’s worked as a medical professional for 15 years — from a local women’s hospital to the past seven years at Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, where she conducts phone-coaching for members, helping them overcome psychosocial barriers that may be preventing them from reaching health goals.
Lori and Dave recently celebrated their 7th wedding anniversary, just after she returned home and he was on his own mission trip — marking their anniversary on 7/7/14 at 7:07a.m. (how about that for love of No. 7, right?!)
I’ve been fascinated to hear more about Lori’s experiences overseas and how she navigated the diabetes side, and we hope you are too!
A Guest Post by Lori Pierson
Although having a chronic health condition can add extra challenges to life, I have never allowed a type 1 diabetes affliction of 32 years to hinder what I wish to accomplish in life. I’m an avid athlete and enjoy running half marathons; it’s never stopped me from pursuing an education nor has it interfered with my being professionally successful. Overall, I have lived a normal life. This disease does not define me.
With that being said, a couple months ago I was facing a new and unknown challenge. I felt that Father God called me into the mission field in a third-world country — Mozambique, Africa. I joined a small seven-person medical team that created a Health Manual and Training Program to decrease the mortality rate among Mozambicans — especially children age 5 and under where the mortality rate is quite high.
Our LifeGate Health Manual and Training Program contains teachings on topics such as clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and maternal-child health that address some of the primary health challenges in Mozambique like malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea and dehydration, and HIV/AIDS.
God’s call upon my life to do this medical mission work was exciting, but in reality I knew there was a need for me to take special precautions thanks to type 1 diabetes.
Fortunately, I am in good health and have good control of the diabetes… but it is not easy and requires constant vigilance. Not surprising to readers here, a typical day for me is testing my blood sugar with finger pricks up to 10 times, and injecting insulin up to six times. So how would I be able to manage for three weeks in a country where basic things like electricity aren’t guaranteed?
I discussed this with my endocrinologist, who was very assuring and directed me to take two precautions. First, he instructed me to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of bottled water each day. Second, he directed me to use “insulin cooling cases” to store my insulin because there is no guarantee of refrigerators being available. I followed his advice and it proved successful. I ended up drinking approximately three liters of bottled water daily, since the heat in Africa can quickly dehydrate and the best way to ensure this does not happen is to drink plenty of clean, bottled water. To keep my insulin cool without refrigeration, I ordered the Frio insulin-cooling cases, which I highly recommend.
I ended up taking additional supplies to ensure I’d have enough. For example, I took approximately two to three times more than I might need of the following items: insulin pens, pen needles, glucose test strips, lancets, and alcohol swabs. I also took an extra glucose meter in case one broke or was not functioning properly (extra batteries, too!).
Overall, I had no issues with any of my supplies while I was in Mozambique. Truly, I was blessed!
When I arrived at our IRIS Ministries base in Pemba, Mozambique after 20 hours of air travel from the U.S., I learned that the water had been off for several days. No running water means no showers. No running water also means no toilets, so latrines had to be used. Electricity was sporadic at times and any communication with the outside world (via Wi-Fi) was intermittent. This was all an adjustment. Quickly, I learned that being without Western basics can be a minor issue when doing such important work.
After less than 24 hours in Pemba, my team went out to the bush (a remote village) to do some teaching with the children on microbes, to better aid the sick. What a blessing it was, and it put in perspective any inconvenience we Westerners were experiencing.
Most in Pemba villages are the Makua people, the largest ethnic group in southern and southeast Africa, and they speak Makhuwa, so we had a wonderful translator on our team. There was a lot to take in, like the typical Mozambican village home that the people make from bamboo, stones, and mud. Some of these structures are very unstable and during the rainy season they are often destroyed. One of the thatched-roof village homes I took a photo near (below) was one of the better structures I saw.
Although I was in Mozambique to focus on primary health challenges in the country, I did not observe or encounter anyone with diabetes. It just is not a primary health issue there.
When it came to my diet while in Mozambique, I tried to stick as close as possible to how I eat at home — very low-carb. I often joke that the highest-carb food I eat is Brussels sprouts, but honestly it’s the truth. My diet consists of a lot of fresh vegetables (raw and cooked), lean meats (like salmon), and good fats (nuts, seeds, and raw butter). I also do intermittent fasting that proves beneficial for maintaining my insulin levels, metabolism, and energy.
So when I was in Mozambique, I continued intermittent fasting and ate primarily: any number of yummy nutrition bars, some seeds and also raw nuts. Like at home, I made sure to have my daily “Green Vibrance” powder that provides probiotics for good gut flora and is an amazing “superfood.” Overall, my plan for eating proved quite successful.
When I go back to Mozambique, I will make some tweaks and adjustments but not much. I felt great during my mission trip, had excellent energy, and the only time I had a blood sugar issue was once when I attempted to eat the traditional African fare (rice and beans). Even though I bolused enough to handle the higher-carb meal, my blood sugar went into the 300s and I did not feel well. That was the last time I ate like that!
I do not know what is next at this point, but I will be doing further mission work and am not sure when I’ll be sent back out in the mission field.
Since being home, I’ve had several friends and family ask if I was scared or concerned about the diabetes going into a Third World country. My response: “No.” Not that I was naive or lacked wisdom, but rather I believe that Father God called me to Mozambique and I put my trust fully in Him.
I encourage you to never let a health condition stand in your way or limit you. For me, nothing is impossible as I walk this journey of life with God.
What great work you’ve been doing, Lori, and we’re so happy to hear that the trip was smooth as far as your diabetes is concerned! Thanks for following your heart and making a difference in that vulnerable part of the world.