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St. Regis Mohawk Diabetes Patients Stay Active, Anticipate New Diabetes Clinic

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Groundbreaking for the more than $6 million Diabetes Center for Excellence on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation is June 18, reported WCAX News and the Watertown Daily Times.

“It's pure exciting; it's like the feeling you get when you know you're buying a car and you want to get into it right away but it's in the factory,” Janine Rourke, registered nurse and program director of the tribe's Let’s Get Healthy/Healthy Heart programs, told the Watertown Daily Times. “We know it's coming; we're excited about it but we wish it was here yesterday.”

Now the tribe's approximately 500 members enrolled in the Let's Get Healthy program, which works to raise diabetes awareness and help reservation residents struggling with the disease, can seek treatment and work out in the new facility, reported USA Today. Currently, the tribe's diabetes education and fitness classes are limited by space and spread out across the reservation, stated the Times.

USA Today reports on Cecilia Cook, 81, who currently keeps active at the St. Regis Mohawk Services clinic, and is one of the tribe's "success stories for healthy aging," said Rourke, explaining that older people are more prone to develop the disease. All patients, especially older ones, should exercise to control type 2 diabetes, as well as modify their diet. More than 80 percent of Rourke's patients are 45 or older, and a third are more than 65 years old.

The new diabetes center will prospectively include a much-needed indoor track, as soon as money comes in. "There are no sidewalks and no track at the high school, so it is hard to find places to walk," Rourke, who lead fundraising efforts for the center, told USA Today.

The tribe received a $600,000 federal grant to fund construction of the 15,000-square-foot diabetes treatment center, which was scaled back from 20,000-square feet due to a shortage in funding. The organization anticipates receiving a few other grants; it applied for one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Ernest J. Thompson, director of planning and infrastructure for the tribe, reported the Times. So far, the tribe has put forward most of the money; the Akwesasne Housing Authority pledged $1 million, with an additional $185,000 coming from grass-roots fundraising efforts such as golf tournaments and a formal dinner and dance.

Rourke believes the center will aid early diagnosis, before the damage starts. She estimates that at least 13 percent of the Akwesasne population is diagnosed with the disease, reported the Times. "We think that if you count those who are undiagnosed, it's more likely 20 percent of the population is affected in our community," she told USA Today.