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Published on April 19, 2017

Lynda Privet

Pen to paper: Amish youth and diabetes educator form friendship

Patients who entrust their care to Gundersen Health System know that we're in their corner. That often means different things to different people. For diabetes nurse educator Lynda Privet, RN, CDE, it has meant developing a connection across farm and field—from one culture to another.

In doing so, Lynda not only delivered on Gundersen's promise of Love + Medicine, she also made a new friend.

Lynda, a 20-year Gundersen nurse, shares this story of how a local Amish family's diabetic son gets the care he needs, in the way he needs it—and much more.

"The other day we had a seminar and the meal included pizza and ice cream. Of course, there were a lot of leftovers. I am not used to eating meals like this and I'm afraid you will not be pleased with my numbers." –Amish boy

"I care for an Amish boy who has Type 1 diabetes, and his family. We had an education session together, not long after I started my role as diabetes educator. He usually has appointments every three months. I was hopeful that I could get his blood sugar records from him prior to our next appointment, so if there was a problem, we could address it."

"Because the Amish family has limited access to a phone, I was afraid there wasn't going to be a way to get his blood sugar numbers between appointments. That's when I got an idea."

"I asked him if he ever wrote letters. He smiled at me, and said, 'Sometimes.' His mom spoke up and said, 'Certainly we do!' So I asked him to send me a letter in mid-October (2015). On Oct. 22, I received my first letter from my new 'pen pal.'"

"Enclosed was a description of his blood sugars, along with an entry from his mother, talking about his diabetes. I shared the boy's blood sugar numbers with his provider, who then made some adjustments. I got out my pen and pad of paper and wrote back with the doctor's recommendations. And so it continued—my next letter from the boy arrived on Nov. 17 and then another on Jan. 7."

The letters have continued ever since. "It was such a great feeling, knowing that we were helping this family manage their son's diabetes in a way that was respectful of their lifestyle. It may not be the way everyone else does it, but it is a comfort to them."

"Before long, the letters not only included important details about his diabetes, but also news about the family, notes from his mother and wishes for me to be well and stay warm."

"I like to believe that my pen pal and his family today feel like they don't have to manage alone between appointments. It is definitely a different way of practicing healthcare, but it certainly is Love + Medicine."