ISU Magazine

Volume 41 | Number 1 | Fall/Winter 2010

Treating patients

Study coordinator Mimi McDonald works with patient Rex Freckleton. McDonald enjoyed working not only on the study, but with its participants as well.

Photo by ISU Photographic Services


The Human Side of...

Fall 2010 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

Researchers, Study Participants Build Strong Bonds

Last winter, Idaho State University finished its participation in a national landmark ACCORD diabetes study. On the broad scale, ISU helped discover how to reduce cardiovascular disease risks for people with diabetes. But, on a local and nonscientific level, the study also forged long-term bonds between researchers and patients.

Eight years is a long time. When ISU co-principal investigator Cara Liday, an associate professor of pharmacy, started the study she was recently married. Three kids later, the study ended.

"The fact that I had three children between the time the study started and ended drives home the point to me that this was a long study," Liday said. "We got to know the study participants very well during that time."

For more on the ACCORD study visit:

During the length of the study researchers and study participants interacted regularly. Patients came in for full medical exams annually. Every four months they had to have lab work done. The patients took their blood-sugar readings and other measurements daily, and monthly provided that data to researchers.

Participants also met with dieticians, learned about proper food care and took "food exams" given by the researchers. Researchers also checked up on patients frequently, either in person or over the phone. Pharmacists completed exams on the study participants, prescribed and adjusted their medications and interpreted lab results. And the patients had the opportunity to network with other patients and learn more about their disease.

"We were really stepping into the person's life, not just taking data about their blood sugar, " said Mimi McDonald, study coordinator.

"We changed their diet, how they exercised and how they understood their disease. We had a big impact on their daily lives and got to know them well, and we miss them now."

Study participants came from a broad region, from throughout Southeast Idaho as far away as Twin Falls, Mackay, northern Utah and Island Park. One participant lived in San Diego and managed to fully participate.

Stein Simonsen, 66, a retired Simplot engineer from Pocatello, was one participant in the study.

"Rex Force (ACCORD study director) is a really nice guy and Mimi is just excellent. It was fun to work with them," Simonsen said. "We had a good time when we met. Rex and I talked fishing and Mimi, of course, was just a pleasant person to be around."

Simonsen detailed other aspects of participating in the study.

"I am a science person myself. I am an engineer, so I was kind of curious about helping out in a major scientific study," Simonsen said. "I did learn a lot about my disease that I wouldn't have otherwise. When you go to a doctor, they say, 'well, you have diabetes, so take this,' but you don't learn much about the disease."

"By participating in the study we received a lot of extra help," Simonsen continued, "They had dieticians there to help teach us about foods and how the foods work in the body and that was quite helpful. They showed us samples of food we could eat and tried to help us avoid the high and low blood sugar. I learned a lot about diabetes and how to take medicines and what food to eat."

Simonsen said networking with other patients was also helpful.

"When we got together with other people with diabetes they would suggest things and discuss common problems, especially diet," he said. "My father lives in Norway and he has diabetes and I shared some of my knowledge with him."

Related Story: ISU Participates in Landmark Diabetes Study

The study is over, but participants still maintain relationships with the researchers.

"We get cards and we have patients visit us, just to come by and chat," said Tracy Pettinger, clinical assistant and professor of pharmacy. "They've come by to introduce us to their grandchildren, just updating us about their families and their activities."

The long-term study and the amount of time spent with patients also help the researchers on a scientific level.

"I received a ton of benefit from being one of the providers for this study," Pettinger said. "I learned about diabetes on a whole different level and it taught me to be a better provider."

Both researchers and patients can take pride in participating in the study.

"They'll be talking about the results of the ACCORD study forever, and we are a part of that," said Eliza Borzadek, Pharm.D., ISU College of Pharmacy clinical assistant professor, a co-investigator in the study.

Another study participant, Linda Barnier, who worked at ISU 18 years before retiring as associate dean of enrollment management, also had positive experiences participating in the study.

"I thought the researchers were very professional, very knowledgeable and offer many types of help if I wanted it," Barnier said. "The people were great."