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Caring for Body and Mind

Barely visible in the dusk of her antique-filled living room, Kay Cameron sat in the ancient quiet, trying to piece together what happened. It was August 2010.

Earlier that day she’d had an appointment with Dr. Syed Hasan, her physician at Sanford Internal Medicine in Fargo. When he asked a simple question about family medical history, she broke down.

“I said the words ‘my mom,’ and the tears came. I couldn’t stop crying,” says the 44-year-old, whose parents passed away years ago. “The reaction was so odd.”

For the next several days she tried to sort out her emotions. Each time she thought back to that moment in her doctor’s office, the tears flowed.

When she described the incident to her grown daughter, a new question entered the puzzle: “What if your doctor had suggested a psych evaluation?” asked her daughter.

Kay responded immediately: “He’s the only person I would’ve accepted it from.”

A relationship of trust

Kay met Dr. Hasan in 2008, when she was diagnosed with diabetes. In the next couple years he guided her through several other medical issues, too, including anemia, precancerous colon polyps and obesity.

“Dr. Hasan believed in me, even when I said I wanted to lose weight and get off diabetes medication,” she says. She transformed her eating and exercise habits, losing 75 pounds and reaching her goal.

“I felt physically stronger than I’d felt in years, and maybe that’s why I was ready for the next challenge -- this time in mental health,” she says.

Two weeks after her emotional breakdown, Kay returned to Dr. Hasan and bravely asked if it would be beneficial to talk to someone.

He answered yes, then took one more important step: recommended Dr. Ken Christianson, a Sanford psychologist who had joined with Internal Medicine.

“It was an excellent fit -- exactly what I needed,” she says. “And all very comfortable.”

Readily available mental health care

Kay became one of a growing number of patients who benefit when top-notch mental health care goes hand-in-hand with primary care -- all in one setting. The streamlined arrangement makes perfect sense; depression often accompanies chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart issues or breathing problems.

Yet depression in the chronic disease population has traditionally gone untreated or poorly treated. National statistics show a patient treated for depression in the primary care setting has only a 20 percent chance of getting better within a year.

“The statistics clearly call for something different,” says Dr. Jon Ulven, Sanford psychologist. In 2009 he spearheaded a pilot project that brought together professionals from Sanford Internal Medicine and Sanford Behavioral Health, including a care management nurse. Today this highly successful approach has expanded.

“Patients love it,” says Dr. Ulven. “Many are surprised they can get their depression treated in the primary care setting.” And not just treated, but successfully treated. Statistics show well over half the patients experienced significant improvement in less than a year.

The impact can be astounding! Successful treatment opens the door to higher quality of life, better disease management and fewer medical complications.

“It’s a homerun all the way around,” says Dr. Ulven.

A brighter path to a better life

In the past year Kay has participated in several counseling sessions with Dr. Christianson. It’s really helped,” she says. “For years I turned to food to self-medicate for depression and that led to obesity. Now I’m working on better ways to deal with issues.”

Today Kay shares one story after the next about the antiques in the Cameron’s historic home in Moorhead. Upbeat and social, she introduces “Edward the Butler,” a life-size mannequin standing in the corner of the living room. “We’re a little eccentric,” she says. An old pump organ occupies the entryway. “We like Gothic, too.”

But there’s nothing dark or mysterious about Kay’s approach to a better life.

“Diabetes was my wake-up call to finally put myself and my health first. I was blessed to be able to get all the care I needed,” she says. “I feel amazing -- like I’m 25 again! Thanks to Sanford, I’ve taken my life back.”

Posted Date: August 2011