Glen Dale Resident Is a Pioneer in Diabetes Education
Heather Leonard Is One of First Specialists in West Virginia
One of the first specialists to assist with the treatment of diabetes in West Virginia laid down her roots in Glen Dale, where she grew from a small operation to working alongside 20 physicians over the span of the last four years.
Heather Leonard was the first registered dietician-diabetes expert in the state, which allows her to work independently of hospitals out of the Marshall County Professional Building. Leonard has been working as a diabetes educator in the area for nearly 30 years, following in the medical field as her father, Dr. Carl Anderson, had done.
“I worked in the valley, I’ve been here 27 years, I grew up here, so I knew a lot of doctors,” Leonard said. “Dr. Anderson worked here for 30 years of his life as a family practice doctor, until 1989. … I was working with several hospitals over my career.”
Initially, Leonard said she was working with two endochrinologists in the area, over the past 10 years or so.
After departing from working with area hospitals, she has expanded her operation to quintuple her reach, with patients up and down the Northern Panhandle, which typically sees her assisting 150 patients each month.
“Really, what inspired me to go on my own was the economic situations of the hospitals,” she said. “A lot of programs were getting cut, so I thought I’d try out on my own. I started out with five physicians, and now I have about 20 who refer to me, from Wellsburg to Sistersville.”
Focusing on cardiovascular health, disease prevention, weight loss and diabetes, Leonard said she received her start at a conference in Atlanta a few years back, where she met with primary care physicians and other dieticians, before striking out on her own. Prior to this, she had worked with numerous local hospitals before opening her own independent services.
“I’m an independent person, and can work on my own to reach rural areas, and help primary physicians that would like diabetes services for their patients, without worrying about where they’re going,” she said. “I try to go to rural areas, like New Martinsville and Sistersville.”
“I also do diabetes classes. I’ve had that for about four years,” she added. “I teach them about the disease process and the treatment of diabetes, nutrition management, medication safety, and prevention of treatment of complications, while helping them address psycho-social issues.”
To accomplish many of those, Leonard said she refers out to specialists in the particular field. With medication safety, though, she said many suffering from diabetes can find themselves in a difficult situation when disaster strikes with no obvious peril.
However, during power outages which last for several days, she said many do not know how long insulin can be safely used, or how to preserve it in the medium-term. For those instances, since insulin can’t be frozen but must be kept cool, she suggests an ice box with towels around the insulin to keep it cool, but not chilled.
“A couple years ago, there was a power outage. Down in Monroe and Tyler County, my patients there lost all their insulin,” she recalled.
Additionally, Leonard said she hosts a monthly support group for diabetics. These meetings are usually held at restaurants which offer diabetic-friendly food options.
“Usually we go to various places — usually eating establishments, because people will come out for food, and usually a place where they can learn to eat healthy,” she said. “We usually have a topic that we talk about — crisis prevention, disaster preparedness, things like that.”
The need for constant attention to diabetes, she said, is something which causes serious strain to many clients, and many get burned out. With West Virginia ranking second in the country in terms of diabetes prevalence, with around 14.5 percent of the state being diabetic, there are many who must deal with it on a daily basis, which can be a chore when it becomes a way of life.
“Its very time consuming – one of my patients said dealing with diabetes was like a second job,” she said. “There’s a lot of barriers — people are in denial, they don’t want to deal with a chronic disease, but diabetes is one of the main diseases of West Virginia, and it causes so many complications … and so all my patients fall off the wagon sooner or later, and they need someone to put them back on the track.”