What Our Clients Are Saying

Watch our featured success stories to hear what our clients have to say about their experiences with the services and programs at the Center For Health & Wellbeing.

Community Wellness Programs are Made Possible Through the Support of Sun Health Foundation.

Sun Health Foundation funds life-enriching community wellness programs, which have served thousands of West Valley residents, some of which are offered at little or no cost.

Success Stories

Sharon Brubaker

Larry Randall

Anne McDonald

Sally Gallardo

Sharon’s New Way of Life

Every day, Sharon Wachs is on a mission to keep her prediabetes in check.

The goal: Healthy living.

The strategy: Nutritious meals, daily exercise, and the buddy system.

At the core of Sharon’s plan is Sun Health’s Center for Health & Wellbeing and its Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). Struggling to take charge of her diagnosis, Sharon enrolled in the program and then convinced a friend to do the same.

Designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 16-week DPP program, followed by six months of maintenance sessions in a support group format, focuses on education, healthy eating and the benefits of staying active. For Sharon, a program that stretches over many weeks is vital for success.  Otherwise, she said, “you fall off the wagon.”

“I knew a lot about these different things, but had never been able to quite put them together,” Sharon said. “Sun Health did that for me. They put all the different benefits together in a package for DPP participants.”

“The DPP program has changed my style of eating completely and now I think that way,” she said. “I like the long term process of the program.”

Every day, Sharon scoots her dogs out the door for a nice long walk. When the weather warms up, she heads to the recreation center with her headphones and gets moving. Sharon used to walk about 1.5 hours a week and now she has doubled that. She rarely misses a day of exercise.

“I feel really good about going out and walking,” she said.

Many evenings, she meets up with her friend to cook healthy dinners. They work together to make nutritious meals, and help each other say no to temptations like potato chips and desserts.

So far, Sharon has lost about 30 pounds and her A1C has decreased. In fact, since she started the program, her A1c had decreased one full point and is now in the normal range. Drinking more water and eating more fiber have been good for her overall health, too. Diagnosed with arthritis, she said weighing less also eases the pain in her joints.

“I was just really ready for this program…and the program is absolutely excellent,” Sharon said. “You can’t beat it.”

To view the dates and times of upcoming DPP series, click here.

Anita’s Health Boost  

Anita Orton has lived with diabetes for two decades but has struggled to get a handle on the disease.

“Diabetes is deceptive. You don’t feel sick on a daily basis so it’s easy to lose control and it’s easy to let things slide,” she said.

When Anita’s health took a turn, her doctor gave her a six-month ultimatum: get her diabetes under better control or begin taking medication to control it. Anita decided to recommit to a healthier lifestyle. But she didn’t have to do it alone.

She turned to the Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME) training at the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing. The program, a benefit under Medicare and most insurance companies, offered a wealth of diabetes education, nutrition advice and more.

As important, program staff exuded a can-do attitude and offered encouragement every step of the way.

“If there was any way to clone everyone’s attitudes, personalities, and vibes and just put those around all the medical professionals, it would greatly enhance our medical field,” Anita said. “I came in and people were helpful, they were knowledgeable, they were able to guide and direct me immediately, and they were very welcoming.”

During the five-week training, Anita felt especially supported by Tracy Garrett, the Center’s diabetes program coordinator and also a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. Tracy’s concern and compassion, Anita said, made participants feel as though she was “investing in each of our lives.”

Thanks to the program, Anita embraced a healthier diet and lost 15 pounds. Her A1C levels went from 7.8 down to 6.9, a move in the right direction. “My doctor was ecstatic and I was ecstatic,” Anita said.

The A1C blood test provides information about a person’s average levels of blood glucose, also called blood sugar, over the past 3 months. It’s used to diagnose and monitor diabetes.

“When someone with diabetes significantly lowers their A1C levels, it greatly decreases their potential for developing complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes,” Tracy Garrett said.

Anita also learned relaxation tips and how to do low-impact exercises.

“I also noticed that there was a change in how I felt emotionally,” Anita said. “I had an ‘upbeatness’ that I did not have prior to the education.”

She calls DSME a “Godsend.”

“After 20 years of kind of floating along with the disease, you just need that recharge,” she said. “And that’s what it was for me, it was a recharge.”

To view the dates and times of upcoming DSME series, click here.

Bonnie’s Wellness Journey

A nurse by training, Bonnie White faced down diabetes and a challenging weight loss goal. But she knew the road ahead would have obstacles.

How could she continue to eat healthy? What was the best way to incorporate regular exercise? Would old habits sideline her success?

To stay on course, Bonnie turned to Sun Health’s Center for Health & Wellbeing (CHW).

“Even though I had lost weight myself, I knew that I needed some help with maintenance,” Bonnie said. “Because maintenance is actually more complicated, lifestyle-wise and emotion-wise. You’re changing your whole relationship with food.”

Today, Bonnie is living a healthy and active life. It’s fitting that the new lifestyle came as a birthday surprise.

Bonnie had already lost 100 pounds and lowered her A1C levels. “I lost half of my weight,” she said.

Then, after reading a story about CHW in Sun Health’s LiveWell magazine, Bonnie picked out the perfect birthday gift for herself. She invested in her future with nutrition and fitness packages offered through CHW.

Bonnie credits Susan Welter, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, for helping her stay focused on meal planning and nutrition. As important, Susan has helped Bonnie understand how to enjoy meals and give food less “power” over her life.

“Susan’s been very perceptive in all ways, not just with her dietitian skills,” Bonnie said.

Through education and determination, Bonnie has kept the weight off.

Bonnie is also committed to staying fit with the help of Rhonda Zonoozi, Sun Health’s exercise physiologist and health coach.

“I’ve gone to many classes over the years,” Bonnie said. “Rhonda actually prepares for the class…and she explains a lot about why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Walking an hour a day, Bonnie feels stronger, has built up muscle, and, as a result, has reduced her risk of falling. She has also lowered her cholesterol significantly.

“I just think that Sun Health is really geared to the types of needs I have,” Bonnie said. “Eating appropriately and moving appropriately gives you a sense of wellbeing.”

Click here to learn about upcoming Diabetes Self-Management Education series dates.

Health Makeover for Gladys

Gladys Eckel knew the devastating effects of diabetes after watching several family members battle the disease. So when Gladys learned that she, too, had diabetes during a routine doctor’s visit, she was determined to take a different path.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, but after the diagnosis I said, ‘I’m not going to allow this to take over my life. It’s not an option,’ ” Gladys said. “My mother had her legs amputated…I’m not going down that road.”

Fate intervened when she spotted a LiveWell magazine article about the Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME) training offered through the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing. The five-week program focuses on diet, nutrition, and other lifestyle changes to better manage the disease.

For Gladys, it was a life saver.

“I was really skeptical in the beginning,” she said. “But I stayed the course and in that timeframe, I learned a lot and thought, ‘Oh, this might just work.’ It’s been about two years now, and it is working.”

DSME, a benefit under Medicare and most insurance companies, is designed to educate participants and help improve their quality of life. Considered a medical standard of care, the training is vital to managing the disease, said Tracy Garrett, the Center’s diabetes program coordinator and a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator.

“Most of the individuals that I come in contact with are unaware of the magnitude of impact that behavior changes can have,” Tracy said.

In addition to Gladys participating in the classes, she and her husband Ken began exercising daily and dramatically changed their diets. They have lost a combined 200 pounds, and Gladys was grateful for the education on diabetes she received from Tracy. Gladys also keeps a daily food journal, tracking calories, sugars and carbohydrates to help her stay on track.

She and Ken eat out once a month, that’s their treat. Gladys also plays cards every Sunday and that’s her “free” day. “It’s a free day, but not a free-for-all day,” Gladys said. “I might have a few bites of cake.”

Gladys also turned to Tracy for guidance about her medication, and Tracy worked with her physician make a change for the better, which included being able to completely stop taking one of her medications, following a consult with the doctor’s office.

“Had it not been for Tracy educating me the way she did and taking an interest the way she did, I don’t know what would have happened,” Gladys said. “I would tell people, ‘Take an interest in yourself. You’re the only one that can change this.’ ”

Click here for upcoming Diabetes Self-Management Education series dates.

Woody’s New Game Plan

Woody Leach is no stranger to serious health issues, but a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes pushed him to the edge.

“I freaked out,” Woody said. “I just totally freaked out.”

He had seen his sister-in-law battle the more serious Type 1 diabetes and feared a similar fate to stay healthy.  Uncertain about the road ahead, Woody and his wife Kathy turned to the Diabetes Self-Management Education training offered through Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing (CHW).

It wasn’t long before Woody’s fears began to fade away.

He credits instructor Tracy Garrett, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at CHW, who offered the perfect mix of education, patience and understanding.

“I can not stress enough how good she was,” Woody said. “The program taught me so much, it alleviated so much of my fear and anxiety.”

In addition to diabetes, Woody has battled heart and kidney issues so reducing his anxiety is vital to his overall health. The DSME training was so beneficial that, with guidance from his physician, Woody was able to go off one of his blood pressure medications.

“That was the main thing, learning that this is totally manageable,” he said. “It will have a less than critical effect on my lifestyle and things I like to do.”

The five-week DSME training focuses on diet, nutrition and other lifestyle changes. A benefit under Medicare and most insurance companies, the program is designed to help participants better manage the disease and improve their quality of life.

A physician recommended the training, and Woody reluctantly agreed to go with his wife. He also became a Medical Nutrition Therapy client at CHW.  In short order, Woody could see the benefits of the training.

The self-avowed “meat and potatoes guy” learned about the importance of changing his diet, and cut back on carbs and soda. He began reading food labels, tested some healthy recipes, and tried out new-to-him veggies like zucchini.

A regular golfer, Woody also bumped up his exercise at his recreation center. With tweaks to his diet and more exercise, Woody has seen his A1C level fall from 8.2 to 6.8.

“As nice as my doctor is, he doesn’t have time to do all the things this program did for me,” Woody said.

“A program like this teaches you what you can and cannot do,” he said. “And gives you a game plan.”

“I’m very confident in what I’m doing now.”

Scott Looks to the Future

When Scott Mahan’s mind tempts him to skip exercising, ignore his meal plan or ditch his medications, he thinks of Violet.

His six-year-old daughter – an affable kindergartner who loves hanging out with dad – is a powerful motivator for Scott to continue on the healthy road he’s worked so hard to build. “I’m doing this for her,” he says.

What he’s doing for Violet, as well as for his wife, two teen-age sons and himself is managing his type 2 diabetes. Reaching this point has taken years of stops and starts and some health scares.

Scott and VioletThe first scare came in 2004 when Scott visited a primary care doctor who discovered in the office that Scott’s blood sugar level was over 600, a condition called ketoacidosis, which left untreated can cause a diabetic coma. The doctor told Scott to go to an emergency room immediately. Scott complied and was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit for five days. That’s when he first learned he had type 2 diabetes.

He left the hospital feeling ill-equipped. “I walked out of there with no clue about what I needed to do.” He knew he needed insulin and he learned to give himself injections, but he didn’t realize the importance of checking his blood sugar regularly or of changing his diet.

He saw an endocrinologist a few times but stopped going. “I didn’t feel like I was getting clear directions,” Scott remembers. He turned to his primary care physician for help.

He vividly remembers a visit, during which his doctor told him his hemoglobin A1C score was 11.4, a dangerously high level. A1C is a lab test that measures blood sugar control by providing an average level of glucose in the blood over three months. (People with Type 2 diabetes who have good blood sugar control have an A1C value that is under 7 percent).

“The doctor told me, ‘I can’t help you anymore. It’s up to you what to do next,’” Scott recalls. “It felt like a slap in the face.”

But it also served as a wakeup call.

Through an email, Scott, now 47, learned about a diabetes management program offered by Sun Health and decided to give it a try.

The Diabetes Self-Management Education Services (DSMES) program, provided through Sun Health’s Center for Health & Wellbeing, showed Scott how he could take control of the disease.

“It was such an eye-opener,” he said. “The class gave me the tools I needed to make sure I could do this.”

Scott, a Navy veteran, knew he had too much to live for, and the DSMES training put him on a new path. The five-week program focuses on diet, nutrition and other lifestyle changes. A benefit under Medicare and most insurance companies, the program is designed to help participants better manage the disease and improve their quality of life.

Scott took to the training right away thanks to instructors Tracy Garrett, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, and Rhonda Zonoozi, an exercise physiologist and health coach. “They are excellent instructors. Very knowledgeable and encouraging,” he says.

With their help, Scott gradually changed his eating habits. Using a food log he created, he now tracks virtually everything he eats. When he eats out, he previews restaurant menus searching for healthier fare so he knows what to order in advance.

Scott also makes sure that his insulin intake is correct, and takes brisk walks nearly every day.

He dropped 40 pounds and has reduced his insulin units because of the DSMES training and follow up guidance from another registered dietitian nutritionist who works with his primary care physician.

With the weight loss, Scott’s able to wear the same size pants as his 16-year-old son and he’s been able to fit into clothes he had saved from his younger, slimmer days. “It feels awesome.”

Another benefit: “I can scratch the middle of my back,” he says with a laugh.

Postscript: A recent job change with different working hours put a dent in Scott’s progress. For example, he regained 10 pounds. “It was surprisingly easy to undo all the hard work I’d done but I decided to bounce back,” he says. He’s returned to his daily walks and a healthy meal plan.

“Managing blood sugar numbers requires constant vigilance but I have a better frame of mind now because I know it can be done. I’ve already done it once.”

Sun City Physician Values Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing Programs

Thomas Maxwell, M.D., managing partner, Maxwell Group, has practiced medicine in Sun City his entire career. The primary care physicians and other providers in his practice see about 120 patients a day, and diabetes and pre-diabetes are prevalent issues.

Dr. Maxwell’s group refers patients to Sun Health’s Center for Health & Wellbeing’s Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME) and Diabetes Prevention Program. The Center is staffed by two registered dietitians, who are certified diabetes educators, and an exercise physiologist, who is also a certified wellness coach.

“We refer patients to Sun Health because, quite frankly, other resources for diabetes education are lacking,” Dr. Maxwell says. “The fact that Sun Health has these programs is wonderful. It’s a great resource,” he adds.

Rene Kridler, practice manager at the Center, appreciates the importance of those referrals.
“Physician referrals are critical to our programs. Patients trust their physician and will put their trust in us when their doctor recommends our program.” Rene says. “To truly serve our community, we must have physicians on board, working together to educate and shift the current health care model from treatment to prevention.”

Dr. Maxwell spends about 15 minutes with each patient. However, he rarely has time to cover patient education. “It’s tough because my patients usually are not there for just one issue,” he says. “Almost invariably there are other concerns unrelated to what the appointment was for, so you spend time dealing with those things. It can be a challenge to provide patients with needed education in a limited timeframe.”

He values the patient who takes a proactive approach to his or her health care.
“I am more likely to get the results I want for that patient,” Dr. Maxwell says. “And, I can almost guarantee they will end up taking fewer medications, have fewer complications, have better test results and just do better. The feedback I get is quite positive. Most feel they glean new information from the Sun Health program, including patients who have been dealing with their diabetes for a long time.”

According to Rene, the follow-up with the physicians is critical.
“The doctor needs to know that a patient has completed a program for the best continuity of care,” she says. “When a patient completes our program the physician can rest assured that their patient will be an informed medical consumer with improved health and compliance.”

Sun City resident Gene Kirkpatrick had been on the edge of being diabetic for many years, and was formally diagnosed after a surgery in 2011. However, like many people he really didn’t understand what that meant. “I didn’t know a lot about diabetes when I was first diagnosed,” he says. “After surgery and recovery, my blood sugars remained high and my doctor put me on Metformin and Januvia, but the levels spiked last summer. I knew I needed to find a class to understand what diabetes really is.”

Gene learned about the DSME program at the Center in LiveWell magazine and asked Dr. Maxwell about it. The doctor encouraged him to enroll.

“The class really opened my eyes on how the body processes sugars and insulin,” Gene says. “I realized that when I eat and when I exercise has a big effect on my sugar level. The last time I had my A1C labs drawn, it had lowered 1.5 percent, which is similar to a 60 point reduction in blood sugar. It’s a result of the class and also me really just understanding my diabetes. Overall, it’s going in a positive direction.”

“I would definitely recommend this class,” he adds. “What is really nice is the notebook we get with all of the references in it. I refer to it all the time.”

Healthy Together

Fitness is a family affair for three generations

By Alison Stanton

To say that Mia Ciotola is close to her mom, Donna Allen, and her grandma, Dolores Thomas, is an understatement.

The three women text and phone each other frequently and get together as often as they can.

“We are definitely a close-knit family,” Mia says. “Not a day goes by that we are not in touch.”

So when Donna learned about the “Weigh” To Go! class offered by Sun Health and asked her daughter and mom to join her, Mia says they all readily agreed.

The trio took the 12-week class in late 2017, finishing right before Christmas.

“I thought this would be a very unique opportunity to combine spending time together with my mom and grandma, but also learning together and growing together,” Mia says, adding that all three of them were weighed and had their body mass index, or BMI, measuredat the start of the class.

By the end of the 12 weeks, Mia says she, her mom and grandma all had “significant weight loss” along with a drop in their BMIs.

“We learned about the importance of mindful eating and implementing some type of movement or exercise. The Sun Health instructors who taught the class were so encouraging — they said that when it comes to exercise, quantity is not as important as quality and that we shouldn’t over-do it.”

As the result of taking the class, Mia says the three of them now have pedometers and are mindful of how many steps they take each day.

“We all try to get out and do something every day, whether it is walking at the mall or at a track in Sun City Grand.”

While she is at work, Mia says she also now strives to get up from her desk regularly to walk around, and when the members of the three generations get together and are watching television, they get up and move during the commercials.

“We are much more mindful eaters now and ask ourselves if we are really hungry before eating. We put our forks down during the meals and enjoy the food and just being together,” Mia says, adding that for her mom and grandma especially it was challenging to accept that it’s okay to not be in the “clean plate club.”

“That is the way they were raised and the way they raised their kids, but we learned that when you don’t waste food, it ends up on your waistline.”

Mia says that she, her mom and grandma all encourage each other to stay on track with their healthy diets and exercise by sharing quotes, affirmations and words of encouragement by phone or text.

Taking part in the “Weigh” To Go! class and the Happy, Healthy Holiday event last December also got Mia to thinking about how important it is for all women to take care of their health.

“To me, ‘women’s wellness’ means empowering each other to be better versions of ourselves and thinking about the mind/body/spirit and to not focus on one thing in particular, but treat ourselves as whole.”

For more information, call 623-832-WELL (9355) or sunhealthwellbeing.org

Feeling More Vibrant

Sun Health’s Diabetes Self-Management Education Program Provides a Fresh Start

Clara Beilke is a natural born caregiver. She was a clinical care technician for 36 years, including 27 years at Banner Boswell Medical Center, and she cared for both her ailing grandmother and her husband.

But when it came time to take care of herself, she didn’t. A pre-diabetic condition soon became a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, and Clara found herself feeling lousy, overweight and depressed.

Encouraged by her daughter to make some serious changes, Clara sought out the advice of her primary care physician, Dr. Thomas Maxwell of Sun City. His prescription: The Diabetes Self-

Management Education (DSME) program offered by the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing.

The program, with its focus on education, simple lifestyle modifications and encouragement, was life changing.

“I feel so much better,” Clara said. “I feel like I have more energy.”

“If I can do it, anybody can.”

Education and support

The DSME program, a benefit covered by Medicare and most insurance companies, offers participants a wealth of diabetes education, nutrition and exercise guidance, and the opportunity for peer support.

Participants work with program staff who bring a positive attitude and offer encouragement every step of the way.

Clara’s daughter, Marie Drinkhouse, offered to attend classes to help Clara stay on track. The information and education were powerful for both mother and daughter.

“She’s always been a caregiver,” Marie said. “She was a caregiver to my grandmother, a caregiver to her husband and I think somewhere along the way she just forgot about herself and it spiraled out of control.”

“She needed somebody to be a little bit lovingly stern to get her in that direction,” she said.

Clara learned to track her carbs, sugars and calories, and began reading food labels. She decided to replace breakfast – usually cereal and a large glass of orange juice – with a protein shake.

As important, Clara started riding her bike, weather-permitting, and enjoys walking at the mall or local Walmart. When she moved in with Marie, doing simple tasks like washing the dishes helped boost her once-sedentary lifestyle.

Rising to the challenge

The changes weren’t easy at first, Clara acknowledged. She loved to eat, hated having to read labels, and preferred to be a couch potato.

But Clara and Marie were determined to avoid a lifetime of medication, something they discussed at length with Clara’s physician.

And when Clara saw her blood pressure and A1c level, representing her average blood sugar level, drop along with feeling the positive effects of losing weight, she knew this was the change she needed.

But the program also taught her that she didn’t need to deprive herself of the occasional cookie or slice of cake. If she treated herself to something sweet, then she made up for it with a 30-minute walk.

“I learned that it was OK to satisfy a craving in moderation,” she said.

Clara credits her daughter for much-needed support along with program staff, particularly Tracy Garrett, the Center’s diabetes program coordinator and a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator.

“She was just so encouraging and so upbeat all the time. She made you feel like you can really do this,” Clara said. “She really knew what she was talking about.”

Back to health

It hasn’t been an easy road but there’s no turning back for Clara, who is 25 pounds lighter, and counting.

“I just feel more vibrant,” she said. “I can bend over and touch my toes, I can breathe better, I’m not as winded when I’m walking.”

By having better nutrition and exercising, her energy level has soared and given her a new outlook on the future.

“Do you want to enjoy your life or not?” she said. “You have to be the one to make that decision. No one can make it for you.”