||Lorena Drago, Dietitian & Diabetes Educator
It's a good thing that Lorena Drago loves to eat. The Lincoln Hospital Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator turned her love of food into a career. Today, the 46-year old native of Colombia is helping patients at Lincoln Hospital live healthier lives, one plate of rice and beans at a time.
"I love what food does," explains Drago, who serves as a Senior Associate Director of the center's Ambulatory Care Nutrition Services, Diabetes Education Center for Excellence and WIC Program. "Food is not just nourishment, it's part of culture. It helps people celebrate, mourn and mark life's important moments."
While diabetes is a global issue and a national health concern, in the Bronx, the condition has reached epidemic proportions. Because the hospital is at the epicenter of the community with some of the highest levels of the disease, the married mother of two, who has a Master's Degree in Food and Nutrition, is in many ways at ground zero of the issue.
"It's not enough to give people the medication to treat diabetes," says the Queens resident. "We have to empower patients with information about how to eat better, and learn how to self-manage their health."
Drago believes her biggest challenge is how to turn complex information into lessons that her patients can easily understand and implement in their lives, every day. She conducts weekly nutrition workshops with patients with diabetes and other conditions, offering them culturally relevant information and the latest in research. She has written two books on ethnic foods and diabetes and has become a recognized bilingual national spokesperson on diabetes nutrition.
She likens her job as a diabetes educator to that of an Olympics coach. According to Drago, Olympic athletes would not get to the Games if they didn't have a coach guiding them along the way. And her patients need a trainer to help them live healthier lives.
"Lorena is very patient-centered," says her supervisor, Donald Velazquez, Associate Executive Director for Ambulatory Care at Lincoln Hospital. "She has a passion for nutrition in general and has become a champion for diabetes nutrition education."
And it's not just any education, Velazquez explains. "What Lorena does is culturally and linguistically relevant and it empowers patients with information that they can relate to on a much deeper level."
Her approach has had success. In particular, Drago recalls a 54-year old diabetes patient who came to her workshop with what she calls the trinity -- high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
"He walked in very depressed about his diagnosis and blamed himself for his struggles with weight and other health issues," she recalls. That was two years ago and he recently thanked her for helping him learn how to eat more nutritiously, manage his blood glucose levels and "getting his life back."
"He took ownership of his own health," she says with a smile.
A vital part of Drago's job is to help people living with diabetes to not abandon the foods they grew up eating, rather, to find healthier ways to prepare them.
She says that part of her research led her to write a first book, Beyond Rice and Beans/Más allá del arroz y las habichuelas: The Caribbean Latino Guide to Eating Healthy with Diabetes, a bilingual tome published in 2006 by the American Diabetes Association.
"There was little information on nutrition for Hispanics who were not Mexican," she explains.
Last year she co-wrote a second book, Cultural Food Practices, which explores food customs from around the world.
Drago says, "We are intimately connected to our foods and asking patients to give them up is counter-productive."