Sanford Worthington Medical Center making a difference in a patient’s life

WORTHINGTON -- Wubalem Tamene came to the United States after living in a refugee camp for five years, fleeing the conflicts of her home country of Kenya. Coming to the U.S. has changed Tamene's life in a number of ways. She is thankful for many ...

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Wubalem Tamene at her apartment Wednesday afternoon. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -  Wubalem Tamene came to the United States after living in a refugee camp for five years, fleeing the conflicts of her home country of Kenya. Coming to the U.S. has changed Tamene’s life in a number of ways. She is thankful for many things, but at the top of her list is her health.

Tamene, 45, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 12 years ago while in Kenya. Despite being able to treat her diabetes, she said her health was deteriorating.

Dieting is an essential part of diabetes’ treatment, however Tamene never received dietary guidance.

“I was just getting worse and worse because they didn't give me any medication, but when I went to the refugee camp they gave me some medication,” Tamene said. “But it was still very hard to get medical help since the refugee camp was so far away from the city.”

Tamene’s health has significantly improved over the last year, and behind that improvement stands a whole team that has helped her not only with her diabetes, but with her overall health.


For the last year Tamene has regularly visited Sanford Worthington Medical Center, where she sees a doctor and a health coach monthly. Tanya Bruns, a health coach at SWMC, explained that she helps Tamene follow the doctor’s dietary recommendations as well as the correct intake of her medication.

“The doctor sets up a plan, for example when she needs to check out her sugar levels and take her medication,” Bruns said. “Then when she comes to me and I go into a deeper level on what foods she is eating, and if she is testing her blood sugar at the right time.”

Tamene’s doctor and Bruns wouldn’t have been able to help her without the collaboration of  Amharic interpreter Miesso Hami and Community Health worker Owar Ojulu. Hami, as well as Ojulu, have played an essential role in Tamene’s health improvement, helping medical staff not only to communicate with Tamene, who doesn’t speak English, but also to understand her culture.

“Ojulu also helped us understand the Ethiopian culture so we could work with her to improve her health while keeping her cultural practices as well,” Bruns said.

Bruns said they were able to modify some of her cultural and ethnic foods such as injera, a typical Ethiopian dish, so it would follow the dietary guidelines to maintain her sugar levels.

“I was very happy that I could keep with my tradition and be able to take care of my health at the same time,”  Tamene said.

Bruns also recalled a time when Tamene wasn’t able to eat animal products for a month since she was in a fasting period.Thus they were able to give her protein shakes that maintained her health while keeping true to her traditions.

“When I came from Kenya I was really sick and I was going through a lot of things, but since I came here to Sanford I have made a lot of changes,” Tamene  said. “They gave me hope again.”


SWMC is a pilot for Advance Medical Home, meaning that patients who come in are not only being treated for one condition, but they are also provided with preventative care. Tamene was not only targeting her diabetes, but she also saw other practitioners for follow up exams to monitor her health and prevent complications.

She was referred to an eye doctor since diabetes patients can develop eye complications. In addition, due to her chronic medical conditions, past history as a refugee and changes with her move to the United States, she was referred to Erin Moeller, an integrated health therapist at Sanford Worthington Clinic.   

“Erin has spent some time talking to her - helping her find ways to deal with stress from remembering being in a refugee camp - so she has been working on developing some coping skills,” Bruns said.

There is one more thing Tamene has been able to find during her time as a patient of the SWMC that goes beyond medical treatment. The SWMC, along with Ojulu and Hami, have helped her adapt to her new home, from assisting her as she navigates the health system to more simple tasks such as helping her shop for groceries.

“Every time I come here I feel like I am about to see my family,” Tamene said.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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