by Jennifer Scales
She is wife to Roderick, a U.S. Army Veteran; mother of 2-year-old Bryson and Camren (a 6-year-old youth model); and champion warrior to those who suffer with Type-1 diabetes, Type-2 diabetes or any pre-diabetes symptoms.
So, if there is any expert conversation about the ‘d’ word in any manner around the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., one may surely turn to Registered Nurse/Certified Diabetes Educator/Diabetic Coordinator, LaCresha Mitchum.
A Kingstree, S.C. native, Mitchum has found the perfect niche since coming to the medical center in August 2015. She is an expert certified diabetes educator, working on a team that consists of a dietitian and pharmacists, all who work one-to-one or in group settings to manage diabetes in all aspects.
“Prevention and awareness are key issues in the battle against diabetes,” Mitchum begins. “Whether diagnosed as a pre-diabetic, having Type-1 or Type-2 diabetes, it’s all about making changes in your lifestyle, which could involve eating habits, portion control, exercise, medication or all of these in some form.
‘When diabetes intercepts in your life, it can affect the family dynamics,” Mitchum said. “The entire family should take charge and make plans for changes in meal planning, proper eating, stress management, and movement in some form to help burn those extra sugars propelling through your system.”
According to Mitchum, symptoms are sometimes ignored. One of her missions is to teach Veterans not to ignore them. “These warning signs could be things as simple as increased urination and thirst. On a warm day, you may think you are thirsty because of the heat and therefore your output increases due to increased fluid intake. Ignoring these symptoms (increased urination and thirst) over a period of time can result in a delay in identifying that blood glucose levels may be higher than normal. Other signs include significant weight loss and blurred vision,” Mitchum said.
Other warnings she indicated could be experiencing numbness and tingling in their feet and hands. Women may experience increased yeast infections while men experience erectile dysfunctions.
As it stands, the population with the highest risk factors are those who are 45 and older, however, diabetes affects children as well.
Her nursing path in diabetes seemed to be a natural progression. After high school graduation in 2002, she attended the University of South Carolina, highlighting her pinning ceremony as the keynote student speaker and receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing with honors, Cum Laude.
Pediatric nursing at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia was her first calling, where she found herself working with children who had diabetes and other childhood illnesses. Later she transposed over to the Outpatient Diabetes Education Center at Palmetto Health Richland, where she again provided care to children and adults with Type-1 and Type-2 diabetes and also women with gestational diabetes.
Mitchum returned to school at South University in 2008 where she focused more on education and received her Masters of Science in Nursing Education in 2010.
Armed with the instruments to mold nursing minds and teach, Mitchum became a pediatric clinical instructor at the University of South Carolina and Midlands Technical College in Columbia; a medical-surgical nursing professor and simulation coordinator at Fortis College where she assisted in curriculum development and developed standards to meet the requirements which aided the college achieving accreditation for its nursing program; and as clinical coordinator at South University working on the site rotations with gaining and maintaining nursing clinical contracts.
Mitchum is also a 2005-2006 recipient of the prestigious Palmetto Gold Scholarship Award, a scholarship presented to undergraduate nursing programs where the recipient is determined by faculty members in an effort to support the future of nursing.
However, the gratitude rests solidly with husband Roderick for her career transition to Veteran Affairs. “He encouraged me to apply in 2015…and one day I got that call,” Mitchum said. “When I interviewed with Dr. Debbie Herman, we talked about diabetes and I knew I was in my comfort zone.”
Even though Mitchum made the decision to come to Dorn, it was difficult to leave her students behind at the colleges. However, to this day, she may see some of her former nursing students here in the halls of the medical center. “I feel honored that I have played a role in their decisions to either concentrate in this field in becoming wonderful nurses or work in the Veteran Affairs.”
For Mitchum, “Dorn feels like home.”
Evidence is shown that Mitchum is passionate about educating everyone on the topic of diabetes, either at Dorn or in local diabetes programs. As a preceptor, she is readily known as the academic source on the diabetes topics when teaching nursing students. She also educates every newcomer on the Dorn’s nursing staff during nursing orientation. She wants to ensure that the correct information is given, whether it’s to an inpatient Veteran, a nurse or staff member working the inpatient floor, or patients who attend her regular session of classes who have been recently diagnosed.
Mitchum is a recipient of many awards within the nursing profession. Some of these awards includes the Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Nursing in 2017. She was recently recognized by a local Veteran for providing outstanding service and demonstrating exceptional patient centered care where she was honored at the Quarterly Kudos Luncheon hosted by the Dorn VA leadership. Mitchum has also received a Nursing Daisy Award throughout her nursing career and is also a current member Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.
Compliments stream from her co-workers on her work ethics.
Diabetes pharmacist, Dr. Marquita Winder stated Mitchum has a superior level of skill as a nurse. “She goes above and beyond in the transition of care for patients. In addition to being a joy to work with, she is resourceful and provides quality care, while also making nursing more comfortable in our team environment,” Winder said.
“She is an individual who you can build a relationship with inside and outside of work,” LaToya Lane, medical support assistant for the Diabetes Center of Excellence at Dorn VA said. “She invests a personal interest in you and will always give you the truth, and provides simple, understandable advice.”
Dorn’s VA’s Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian, Colleen Wracker has known Mitchum since she has been at Dorn. “She is detailed, puts people first, follows up on whatever she tells you, in addition to having an excellent checks and balances system in place. She covers the complete lifestyle management of diabetes for patients,” Wracker said.
Outside of the work environment, Mitchum gets even more positive support from her mother, Winferd Pendergrass; mother-in-law, Ethel Mitchum, and a former colleague, Patricia Dixon, who has been a nurse at Palmetto Health Richland for more than 27 years.
Pendergrass, Mitchum’s mother, who is the interim director at Waccamaw Center for Mental Health in Kingstree, S.C., echoed extra pride about her daughter. “As I was a single parent, I always told her to give everything her best and reach for the stars. She has always been a mentor, even as a young child in school. She always wanted to receive A’s so when she got the occasional ‘B’, I had to tell her it was OK. She has made me proud in her accomplishments as she continues to put God first in all she does,” Pendergrass said.
But Mitchum does get opportunities to step away from her passionate work and reflect into other ‘missions’ in her personal life. “God and family are very important to me,” Mitchum said. “I have to give my first praise to Him because nothing in my life would have been possible without God watching over and laying the path for me.”
As far as hobbies goes, she has been compared to Martha Stewart for her craft wisdom. “I enjoy making crafts and decorations for Camren’s and Bryson’s classes. Plus, baking treats for my family is always special,” Mitchum said.
Bridging theory and practice is something Mitchum has brought to the medical center with her education and hands-on learning. “You have to maintain your A1C in order to prevent kidney disease and other chronic conditions caused by Diabetes,” she concludes. “You can turn yourself around from diabetes. If we can prevent it, then let’s do it.”