Registered dietitian Colleen Jackson walks the floors of Brookhaven Memorial Hospital caring for patients' nutrition needs. But she also puts pressure on her sneakers in the annual Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes on Jones Beach, Long Island.
And, because that's not quite enough exercise or goodwill for this volunteer, Jackson rides in the Tour de Cure every June on Long Island as part of a team raising money for the American Diabetes Association. Jackson, who has diabetes, powers a seven-speed touring bike for 20 miles of the event she's taken part in for five years.
All that walking and pedaling can't compare to the thrill she gets when this "Action Jackson" is rock climbing alongside kids at Camp Aspire. Every summer, Jackson volunteers at the Monroe County camp along with a medical team working with children with diabetes.
"The prize of everything I do is diabetes camp," said Jackson, a member of the Brookhaven Memorial Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, a union led by Barbara Lipski.
Located on the Rochester Rotary Sunshine Campus, the summer program is held in two weekly sessions during July.
"Not only am I able to help a child, I get things back in return: I climb a wall, shoot archery; I've made a lot of friends."
Camp provides many successes for children with diabetes, such as being able to give themselves a shot for the first time, or put on an insulin pump infusion set for the first time. Many of the staff members helping them also have diabetes.
"It's realizing they're not alone," Jackson said. Being among other diabetic children helps these youngsters and teens, ages 8–17, know they are not the exception.
"They spend a week at overnight camp being kids," she said. Adventures can crop up in the tree house, at arts and crafts, or in the pool.
Jackson has been a certified diabetes educator for 15 years. She is also one of the educators at Brookhaven's Diabetes Wellness Center, where classes are held for patients on "everything from 'What's diabetes?' to 'How to travel the world with it.'"
Jackson said she is motivated to educate because, when she first learned she had the illness, she was not taught a lot about it.
"I've had diabetes for 35 years and it's been tough at times," she said. "I'm determined to raise money to help find the cure before I leave this earth."
Diagnosed at age 28 with Type 1 diabetes, Jackson wears an insulin pump and monitors what she eats, her insulin and her blood glucose. She wears a glucose sensor.
"It tells me what's going on 24 hours a day," she said.
Prior to becoming a registered dietitian, Jackson worked for 25 years in the supermarket business as a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
"I've been in food my whole life," said the Queens College (CUNY) graduate.
- The Step Out Walk is held in 95 locations nationwide.
Call 1-800-DIABETES for information from the American Diabetes Association.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the disease of diabetes causes levels of blood glucose, or blood sugar that are too high. Patients administer insulin because as a hormone, it helps the glucose get into cells to give them energy. People with Type 1 diabetes have bodies that do not make insulin. People with the more common Type 2 diabetes have bodies that do not make or use insulin well.