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Living with Chronic Illness: Tanner Program Helps Kim Littleton Face Burden of Chronic Disease

With a history of chronic illness, 53-year-old Kim Littleton was tired of feeling older than her age. Support from the Living Well with Chronic Disease program offered by Tanner’s Get Healthy, Live Well helped her learn ways to manage her symptoms.

At 53 years young, Kim Littleton was tired of feeling older than her age.

Littleton started suffering from migraines 27 years ago and has been on arthritis medicine since her mid-30s. In 2006, she was diagnosed with pancreatitis caused by extremely high triglyceride counts, which led to an exploratory surgery. She has struggled with cholesterol and triglyceride problems ever since.

But the story doesn’t end there. She started taking blood pressure medicine about five years ago.

“I’ve got a lot of different things going on,” said Littleton, who lives in Carrollton.

With her history of chronic illness, she is no stranger to the wellness programs provided by Tanner Health System’s Get Healthy, Live Well. She previously participated in the Diabetes Prevention Program, which she enjoyed, and ended up learning a lot about how to fight the key risk factors for diabetes. She found out about the chronic disease class after seeing an e-mail from Tanner.

“I just was aching all over, just hurting a lot and I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be helpful,’” Littleton said of the class.

But her main motivation for signing up was becoming a grandmother.

“That was the main reason I wanted to do something about it,” Littleton said. “I just wanted not to feel old anymore. That’s pretty much it. I wanted to feel my age. I wanted to feel 53 instead of 65 or 70.”

When Littleton walked into her first Living Well with Chronic Disease class, she admitted to being skeptical at first.

“I wondered how could a class that was geared toward the generic term ‘chronic illness’ work,” Littleton said. “Wouldn’t it be better to have a separate group for those with arthritis, one for diabetes, one for lung issues, and one for high blood pressure? What could we possibly have in common?”

At that first Living Well with Chronic Disease meeting in Carrollton, everyone had to tell the one chronic illness they have the most trouble managing.

“It was then that I realized that I have more than one chronic illness,” Littleton said. “Mine include migraines, high cholesterol and triglycerides, arthritis and high blood pressure. Every single person in the room had more than one and I saw how interrelated chronic illnesses really are.”

The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics defines a chronic disease as one lasting three months or longer. Chronic diseases include arthritis or joint pain, cancer, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, glaucoma, heart disease, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, respiratory problems and stroke.

Get Healthy, Live Well launched the six-week Living Well with Chronic Disease program in 2015 to help people with chronic diseases and their caretakers find the best ways to manage their diseases while also gaining support from each other. The evidence-based program, which was created at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., has shown to reduce hospital stays and result in fewer outpatient visits for people living with chronic disease.

The program focuses on teaching people how to be more proactive in managing their disease and how to live a fuller life. The classes also strive to provide participants with a perspective that a disease does not define them or rule their life. Classes help make the disease less overwhelming.

Group support is important in helping people deal with the challenges of chronic disease, from fatigue and fear to the potential strain on a family.

“After being diagnosed with a chronic disease, it’s important to educate yourself about your illness and find people who support you,” said Jamie Brandenburg, chronic disease outreach coordinator for Get Healthy, Live Well. “This program gives participants the tools they need to manage their disease and live a healthier, active live.”

Brandenburg and Valerie Duke were the instructors for Littleton’s class. Littleton said she learned a lot while in the program, finding the group and partner brainstorming sessions very beneficial. Another thing she found beneficial was weekly goal setting and the accountability that came with sharing how they met their goals.

The class also taught Littleton the importance of exercising and tracking what she eats. Littleton not only started doing different kind of exercises like weight-bearing workouts; she also began tracking her food intake.

One of the most valuable lessons Littleton learned was using “I” instead of “you” when expressing her feelings.

“It helped my communication with my family and my doctors even,” Littleton said. “Instead of saying to your husband, ‘You never pay attention to me when I’m hurting,’ you should say, ‘When I hurt, I feel like you’re not listening and then it makes me feel like I’m not important.’”
Littleton was also given tools to help with making decisions.

“Through this process, I realized that I needed to talk to my provider to get a different cholesterol medicine that did not have as many side effects,” Littleton said. “I’m not sure I would have done that on my own. The new medicine has fewer side effects and I’m not in constant achy pain anymore.”

Brandenburg stressed that patients are the most important member of their healthcare team.

“It’s your responsibility and your right to fully participate in the decision-making process when it comes to health care,” she said. “Ms. Littleton is the perfect example of someone who took control of her chronic disease symptoms and successfully found a way to reduce them.”

Littleton would recommend the Living Well with Chronic Disease program to anyone suffering a chronic illness.

“I was happy with practically everything that we did in the class and it was worth the investment of my time,” Littleton said. “I feel like this class gave me a practical tool kit of things to try to help me manage my chronic illness, but most importantly, it made me realize that I was not alone.”

To register for Living Well with Chronic Disease, call 770.214.CARE or visit www.GetHealthyLiveWell.org.

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