Graduates from a Tidelands Health program are committed to reducing their risk of diabetes.

Roughly half the residents in Georgetown County either have diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to Tidelands Health. Recently a collective of determined Georgetown County residents did their part to turn the tide against this largely preventable disease.

The Tidelands diabetes prevention program class of 2019 gathered at the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church with nearly 50 supportive family, friends and previous program graduates to mark this moment in their lives.

But it nearly didn’t happen.

Just two months before graduation, this class wasn’t making the grade. To graduate, the 13 participants had to lose five percent of their collective weight.

“We didn’t keep up what we needed to do,” participant Cherrie Morris said. “We got back into bad habits.”

The challenges of diabetes are many including access to healthy food choices and education. However, this graduating class also had a natural disaster with which they had to contend.

Hurricane Florence disrupted their progress by interfering with their ability to exercise and stay with their healthy eating habits. But they recovered, and halfway through the year-long class, the group had lost 3.6 percent of their collective weight. But with only two months until graduation, they slipped and had returned to only a 1.6 percent loss of their overall weight.

Instructor Shawn Garrett, a community health worker with Tidelands Health, pushed them to do better. They ended with 5.2 percent weight loss and earned the privilege to walk across the stage Friday.

“They had about two months to get their act together,” Garrett said. “I am so proud of them and all the obstacles they had to face. They did it.”

Morris, who lost 22 pounds, said the participants were determined to meet the goal and earn their special night.

“We came closer together as a team and started walking together,” she said. “We came together and worked diligently to get where we are today.”

For a year, the participants attended classes teaching them about diabetes and how to prevent it through regular exercise and healthy eating. They learned how to measure food, which foods to limit or avoid and other tips to help reduce their chances of developing diabetes.

“This is the ultimate avoidable disease,” said Dr. Phil Nicol with the Tidelands Health Diabetes Center who delivered the keynote speech during Friday’s graduation. “Virtually every case of diabetes is self-induced. Our health habits in this country have not been very good.”

The diabetes prevention program teaches healthy habits to help people reduce their risk of diabetes. The community-based effort, which has full recognition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offers education and support to help people improve their health and delay or prevent the onset of diabetes. Classes are held in churches, community centers and businesses.

Celestine Linen lost the most weight – 31 pounds. She started taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator and eating healthier, cutting back on some of her favorites including Mountain Dew and fried chicken.

“Our nationally recognized Diabetes Prevention Program is making a difference in people’s lives,” said Kelly Kaminski, director of community health resources at Tidelands Health. “We want to educate residents in our community about the disease and the steps they can take to reduce their chances of developing it. We are dedicated to helping them live better lives through better health.”