ADA Director Speaks Out

Posted on August 17, 2011


I have had the opportunity to do some work with an amazing woman named Helen Overfield.  Helen, is the Director of the American Diabetes Association in Louisville, KY. 

Seeing her passion and dedication made me wonder, what makes her tick?  Why choose a career in diabetes? 

Helen was gracious enough to allow me to interview her.  I hope reading her story/responses will give you insight not only into Helen’s life but the role of the ADA.  An organization dedicated to diabetes and diabetics.  Need I say more…..

Here we go:

1. Why do you work for the ADA?

As Director of the ADA, I strive to implement our mission – to prevent and cure diabetes and improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. I enjoy working in the non-profit charitable arena, particularly in the health care area. There is so much work to be done in Kentucky – especially with the increasing numbers of Type 2 diabetes. I was shocked to learn that every 17 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes, and that the disease kills more people each year than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

 2. What does diabetes mean to you?

It is a disease that people often don’t take seriously.   With Type 1, most people understand it’s serious ramifications – they are insulin dependent and people understand the seriousness of the disease when it is Type 1. Type 2 is often controlled with diet and exercise and oral medication, so people often think the complications aren’t as serious…because it is a slow deteriorating process. The effects of the disease can be life altering – kidney damage, amputations, blindness, cardiovascular issues – heart problems and stroke, depression, neuropathy, skin infections, and even worse – death. A child born in 2000, with the current health trends – 1 in 3 will face diabetes in their lifetime. In minority populations – this staggering statistic is 1 in 2!

3. Do you have any personal relationships to diabetes?

I had twins 18 years ago, and a large percentage of multiple birth pregnancies (and large weight babies) result in gestational diabetes. My babies’ birth weight was small, but the effect of multiples took a toll and I developed gestational diabetes. I was able to control it through healthy eating, but I tested myself 5 times a day. Doing those blood pin pricks during that time gave me a new appreciation for what diabetics go through each day.

My father died from complications (heart attack/stroke) of Type 2 diabetes. I have an older brother and a younger brother with Type 2 diabetes. I check myself 4 times per year. I have many friends with Type 1 and my children have friends with Type 1. My husband’s mother and aunt both have Type 2.

Over 26 million American have diabetes and 79 million are at risk for developing it- so just about everywhere I go, everyone I talk to has a friend, family member or co-worker with diabetes.

 4. What role does the ADA play in the lives of diabetics?

We are a part of a large National organization that raises funds for research, education outreach and programming and advocacy. The web site  is full of useful information for diabetes and their families. There are chat room/communities for people, recipes, medical resources and information on controlling diabetes, a wonderful monthly magazine, etc.

We are the only national organization that raises funds for Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes. We have fundraises that are nationally branded throughout out the United States, such as Tour de Cure, a cycling event held in over 80 cities, Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes, held in over 140 cities, and many Diabetes Galas and Expos.

We advocate for patients rights – there is a meeting in Washington DC each year. In Kentucky we have a Diabetes Day at the Capitol in Frankfort- in February. I just attended out national conference in San Diego California in June, which was tied to the 71st Annual Scientific Session – the largest Medical Conference in the world – 18,000 researchers and medical personnel attend on behalf of diabetes management and finding a cure.

5. What services/resources does the ADA provide diabetics? Family members?

Our National office has a new program called Living With Diabetes Type 2. Many of the markets have Family Resource Networks, A Hispanic and Latino Program Por Tu Familia, an African American Program, Live Empowered, and a Native American Indian Program, Awakening the Spirit, and Diabetes Camps for children in nearly every state. The best starting point is the web site

6. What is the most rewarding part for you (working for the ADA)?

The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that the funds we raise will someday find a cure for this disease.

 7. in one sentence – What would the ADA tell a new diabetic? a diabetic of 20 years?

The ADA would advocate that a newly diagnosed patient know that they are not alone – there are many resources available to them. Again, the ADA web site  is an incredible resource. The new program LWT2D Living With Type 2 Diabetes is available in English and Spanish:

 I always urge people to “Join the millions” – our Stop Diabetes Movement on our national web site – in numbers there is power!

8. Share a few meaningful ADA/diabetes experiences with us.

 I enjoy speaking to people at health fairs and lunch an learn sessions – letting them know more about diabetes and how they can better manage Type 1 and possibly prevent or delay Type 2. Often times, at our Walks, people are tested at one of our sponsors booths (at the Health and Wellness Festival we do bold glucose screening), and they had no idea their sugar levels were so high. We discuss with them things to talk over with their health care provider and give them resources.

We get calls from people that are uninsured or unemployed and have lost their insurance, and when I can provide them with some resources in the city it is very gratifying.

When I watched our Red Riders – those that have diabetes that participate in our Tour de Cure set cycling goals and reach them – it was an amazing experience. One person had never done a cycling event and was moved to tears when she finished because as a Type 1 diabetic she wasn’t sure she could participate. Not only did is do it- she came in first of all the Red Riders!

At Step Out, seeing all the red hats that the Red striders wear (those that walk and have diabetes) – knowing we all walk to raise funds for a cure for them is very humbling.

9. How can diabetics and family members get involved with the ADA?

 Locally I would encourage diabetics to help their local offices – especially with their fundraisers. This raises awareness about diabetes and much needed funds for research. It may be volunteering on a committee or forming a friends and family team at Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes or Tour de Cure or participate as a cyclist. There are 20-40 and 60 mile routes, as well as a 5 mile family fun ride.

Our Louisville office utilizes volunteers for health fairs and for the day of event logistics, as well as securing contest items for prizes and donations from various food and drink vendors for our fundraising events. Many volunteers work in our office assisting the staff.

 10. Other? Call your local ADA to get involved or for information and visit the web site

Helen, thanks so much to you and the American Diabetes Association.  We appreciate all the hard work and dedication.  You are making a difference in the lives of diabetics (and their families).