Healthy Life: Chronic Disease Management Workshop

By Ashley Hinson, Anchor/Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS- Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be devastating.
It's easy to feel down about the challenges of such a diagnosis.
But there's a program that's helping patients keep a positive outlook. One of those patients? Dorothy McDowell of Cedar Rapids.

McDowell is a doting grandma. She showed us some pictures of her grandsons, saying "They're the light of my life". But she lives every day knowing she has limitations in the things she can do with her grandchildren.

Those limitations started nearly 10 years ago.

"All of the sudden my vision was blurred, and I started seeing halos and bright lights," McDowell said.

After several trips to doctors and specialists, the diagnosis was in. She had Sarcoidosis. It's an inflammatory disease that affects the tissues, specifically McDowell's heart, lungs, and both eyes.

"They do not know what causes Sarcoidosis so there is no cure," she tells TV-9.

So for several years, she lived her new normal. McDowell was fighting exhaustion, pain, and troubles breathing. Then, she found out about a program, designed especially for those with chronic conditions. It's the Chronic Disease Management Workshop, through Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

"It has helped me to live a more productive life," she says.

"Having a chronic condition can be a very isolating situation," says Kathy Bargary, who helps to coordinate the program. "People can't do what they used to do, and so often times people feel like they can't do anything."

The program is 6 weeks, 2 ½ hours once a week. It creates an atmosphere for productive conversation for those with Chronic Diseases.

"So when they meet with other people who are suffering from those same things, they usually feel like they help each-other and learn from each-other," says Bargary. "We consider a chronic condition anything that anyone has to manage on a daily basis."


"It's so important to surround yourself with a good support team," says McDowell.

Whether it be an inflammatory disease like what she has, or Cancer, Diabetes, even Asthma, this series of classes provides people with tools to help manage their condition.

"I try not to focus on what I can't do, and I try to look more on what I can do," McDowell says.

Each person who goes through the program gets a copy of a book called "Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions" plus a relaxation tape to aid in continuing what is learned during the course at home. And in that book? More than 200 tips, varying from how to exercise and clean the house, to how to better breathe, take baths, and even be intimate.

Bargary says they stress a lot of different techniques. "Meditation, maybe calling a friend, a family member, reading a book, going out for dinner with someone," she says. "Real simple things that maybe when someone's in the middle of dealing with that chronic condition it's just hard to think about."

McDowell is now a peer leader of the workshops, helping others to manage their conditions. And the connections she made in the class continue today. She made friends that she still sees on a regular basis. All of them have chronic conditions.

"Four years later we still meet for lunch. We call ourselves the lunch bunch," she says.

Both Bargary and McDowell agree, this program helps to deal with a diagnosis, and gives people the tools they need to live their new "normal" life.
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