Rick Douthit fondly remembers his summers at Bradford Woods where he attended camp for children with diabetes. He was about eight when he first attended the camp and enjoyed hiking, swimming, and fishing. But what he liked the most was that he was at camp with other children who also had diabetes.
“It helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one with diabetes,” said Douthit, a nurse and certified diabetes educator with IU Health. He splits his time between University Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children teaching other patients how to live with the disease.
After middle school, he joined his camp pals on bike trips across Michigan and Wisconsin. “Those bike trips are some of my best memories. It taught me that diabetes doesn’t have to limit me in the things I do,” said Douthit.
“A lot of the counselors at the camp also had diabetes so it helped to see how they had grown up with diabetes.” Eventually he became a counselor at the camp he attended as a young boy. He still keeps in touch with many of those friends today and even joined some of his fellow campers for a recent reunion.
After he graduated from Lafayette Jefferson High School, Douthit enrolled at Purdue University and obtained a degree in Industrial Technology. But he soon realized his heart was set on becoming a nurse.
“When I was 12, I was hospitalized and there were two male student nurses working in the pediatric unit. I watched them work and a light bulb went off and I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
But by the time he graduated from high school, nursing wasn’t as popular for men to pursue as it was for women.
“There was a stereotype about men getting nursing degrees so I went for that manly degree and eventually realized I needed to go into nursing,” said Douthit, who obtained his associates degree from IUPUI and his bachelors degree from the University of Indianapolis. He started working at IU Health 20 years ago and for the past 10 years he has worked with the Diabetes Centers educating others about living with diabetes.
“There is an increasing prevalence of diabetics particularly Type 2 diabetes. It truly is an epidemic. It relates to our lifestyle - we tend to be less active and not eat the healthiest,” said Douthit who is married and the father of three children. Every patient is different.
“People come in newly diagnosed with diabetes and all sorts of feelings and levels of acceptances. We often see people come in who are in denial, angry and depressed. We would treat them differently than someone who has had diabetes for some time and is more accepting,” said Douthit.
He teaches patients the American Association of Diabetes Educators “Seven Self-Help Behaviors” to help them manage their disease: Being active, monitoring, taking medication, problem solving, reducing risks, and healthy coping techniques.
“The main goal is to help the patient gain an understanding that diabetes is a condition they can live with and have a normal healthy happy.” He also draws on personal experience when relating to patients.
“There are many factors that can impact a diabetic’s control – stress, exercise, and other health issues,” said Douthit. “I’ve learned it’s a complex disease but I’m an example that you can live a happy life with it. I don’t’ think I would have even become a nurse if I didn’t have Type I diabetes.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.