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  • Sarah Waara

Under 8: A life-saving program

Updated: Mar 13


Shelly Greer, right, pictured with Nancy Leahy, left

Shelly Greer felt off. Her vision had been getting blurry, and she was more tired than normal. She thought she could use some new glasses or thought that maybe she just needed to rest, but her dad urged her to go to the emergency department.


That simple push to go to Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital - Milwaukee Campus saved Greer’s life.


“I went to the emergency room and said I would like to take a diabetic test,” Greer said. “The prick test showed that [my blood sugar] was at 500. The urinary test showed that I was over 700.”


The numbers were alarming as a normal blood sugar is typically under 140. Greer was immediately admitted and stayed in the hospital for a week and a day. As time went on, and as Greer learned how to manage her Type 2 Diabetes, her numbers improved. Her A1C – a measurement of how much sugar is in your blood – dropped to a 10 from a 16. She ate better, took her medicine and started to exercise.


But that wasn’t enough. Her physical symptoms were under control, but the mental aspect of diabetes was slowly dragging Greer into depression. At that moment, she received a phone call that changed everything.


“Ms. Nancy gave me a call, told me who she was and told me that my doctor referred me to a program called Under 8,” Greer said. “From the day I walked in, I felt love. I felt the support. There was no judgment.”


Under 8 is made possible through donor generosity to Ascension Wisconsin Foundation and provides individuals with education, resources, healthy food and a safe place to share their experiences. After the program concludes, participants are empowered with the knowledge to continue their efforts to live healthier lives.


Nancy Leahy, Nurse Practitioner for Ascension Community Services, begins every Under 8 meeting by checking vital signs, blood sugars and blood pressures to track all participants’ progress throughout the 10-week program. Participants learn about nutrition while receiving healthy food to take home, medication management and fitness as a way to work toward the goal of lowering their A1C to under 8.


But to most participants, receiving support from individuals who have gone through similar experiences is the best part of the program.


“We want participants to know that they have the control and power to make changes in their lives,” Leahy said. “Where else can you come together and just have other people understand what you’re going through? We want to be that support for one another.”


Greer received that support and then some. From changes like switching out a sweet dessert for a rice cake and taking short walks throughout the day with her son, she did it.


From sitting in a dark place to embracing her diagnosis and changing her mindset, Greer is just one of many individuals that have benefited from Under 8. Greer lowered her A1C into the 6 range through a combination of lifestyle changes and medication management but most importantly, she didn’t feel alone in her journey.


“I was mentally depressed. Mentally saddened. I was feeling like, ‘why me?,’” Greer said. “When I got the call from Nancy, I felt relieved. I got that call, and that friendly voice came over the line and told me a date and I knew I’d be there. The mental and emotional support from the group gave me strength. I knew it was going to be ok because I was amongst friends and family.”


Because of the education, resources and support from Under 8, Greer has been able to play with her grandbaby and see her son succeed in college. Because of donor generosity to Ascension Wisconsin Foundation, members in our communities are creating memories that may not have happened without that support.


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