November 2014

The Road to Wellness: One Step at a Time

Author: Special to CH2

The journey to a life of wellness begins with the smallest of steps—steps that rapidly accumulate, yielding extensive changes to one’s overall well-being of mind, body and spirit. At Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island (VIM), a dedicated group of patients are forging their own paths to a life of wellness through the newly implemented Women’s Walking and Weight Loss Program, laying the foundation for a lifelong commitment to health.

Research confirms that the burden of chronic disease is concentrated within low income patients such as those of our neighbors who rely on VIM for their healthcare needs. Furthermore, chronic disease and poverty often initiate a vicious cycle as the combination of both instigates a downward spiral of worsening poverty and disease. Although VIM’s patients do experience higher rates of chronic disease and risk factors for developing such, simple behavior modification and lifestyle changes can significantly reduce complications associated with chronic disease and decrease inherent risk.

VIM’s Women’s Walking and Weight Loss Group, comprised of more than 100 enthusiastic patient participants, walks together weekly at Jarvis Park. In addition, they have recently added a weekly Zumba class to their regimen and participate in monthly healthy living education seminars that cover a variety of aspects of healthy lifestyles. The women are each equipped with downloadable FitBit pedometers and are armed with a strong will to succeed, a deeply shared camaraderie and peer group support. According to Julie Copp, VIM’s director of patient care, “The group has now lost an impressive 1,000 pounds and walked a collective 70,000 miles. That’s a trek around the world almost three times!”

On Thursday afternoons, the group arrives at VIM, some of them relying on walkers or canes while others have young children and strollers in tow, to conduct their weekly weigh-ins as well as to have their FitBit progress downloaded and charted. For many of these women, the fellowship that this group offers may even prevail over winning a spot on the coveted wall of fame in the clinic that displays VIM’s “Biggest Losers,” those patients who have lost at least 10 percent of their body weight (two of whom have actually lost 20 percent) and walked considerable distances.

Responses to anonymous patient satisfaction surveys specific to VIM’s Women’s Walking and Weight Loss Group offer meaningful insight into the program’s capacity to dramatically alter all aspects of the patients’ well-being and are decidedly indicative of its abundant success. When asked what they like about the program, one patient mentions “the dedication of the staff to help us stay healthy. Everyone motivates you to exercise and is very positive.”

Another comments, “I just love being able to see the progress that I make and learning about the body and health.” When asked about how they have been changed by the program, patients’ responses include, “It makes me feel good about myself,” and “I get more exercise than ever before, learned how important health is and it makes me a happier person.”

“At VIM, we remain steadfastly committed to treating our patients for their acute needs, but the ultimate goal of this program is prevention, to get women and their families healthy, reducing their need for medical care,” said Dr. Raymond Cox, VIM’s executive director. “We believe that a comprehensive wellness and preventive care program can help patients make progress toward better health instead of continuing on to a diagnosis of debilitating disease.”

Over 20 years ago, Dr. Jack McConnell founded Volunteers in Medicine to care for some of the most medically underserved people in the United States. The success of those enrolled in VIM’s Women’s Walking and Weight Loss Program has inspired VIM’s ambition to permeate this initiative and message of wellness throughout the clinic. “Our patients do not normally have access to preventive healthcare screening and diagnosis, because they usually visit the clinic only when they are already ill,” said Dr. Lisa Drakeman, VIM board chair.

“Instead of waiting to treat the seriously ill, we need to reach out to all of our patients, screen them for risk factors and treat them as necessary. We actively encourage their participation in the weight loss, exercise and healthy living programs, with the walking for weight loss and exercise serving as the cornerstone of VIM’s Wellness Institute.”

Volunteers in Medicine has played a leading role in keeping our less fortunate neighbors healthy for more than 20 years. The achievements accomplished in the Women’s Walking and Weight Loss Group have spurred VIM’s motivation and provided the impetus to shift the clinic’s emphasis to taking care of its patients in their entirety so that they and their families may lead happier and healthier lives…one step at a time. 

DANCE FOR KIDS
Don’t miss Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island’s premier fundraising event, Dance for the Kids, on Saturday, November 15 at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, from 6-10:30 p.m. The elegant evening includes a cocktail reception followed by a seated dinner with wine, silent and live auctions, music and dancing. For tickets or more information, please visit vimclinic.org, e-mail development@vimclinic.org or call (843) 689-6612.

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