HAMMOND | Along with her lab coat and stethoscope, Tracy Tucker's work supplies include a stuffed fabric pancreas and Rufus, a teddy bear with diabetes.
The bear, covered in colored patches that show where to test blood sugar and inject insulin, is an educational tool for Tucker, a nurse in the School City of Hammond.
Last summer Tucker was the first nurse to participate in a shadowing program a La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago, earning hours toward becoming a certified diabetes educator, or CDE.
In the school system, 42 students are diabetic, with either Type 1 or Type 2, she said.
"Until we find a cure, they're going to have it with them their entire lives," she said.
The Diabetes Educator Mentorship Program was created in 2011 by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators, the American Association of Diabetes Educators and the American Diabetes Association.
Cathy Geraci, a case manager in diabetes and a CDE at La Rabida, said Tucker's passion to become a CDE was clear.
"I think that she has naturally gravitated to those kids," Geraci said. "She enjoys teaching and caring for them."
The program is a great opportunity for a school nurse, such as Tucker, to become better prepared to share diabetes knowledge, Geraci said.
"Parents and our team have the comfort of knowing trained personnel are caring for children with diabetes while at school," Geraci said.
Tucker has been a school nurse for seven years. To become a CDE, she has to accrue 1,000 hours toward the specialty, through work and volunteering.
Volunteering at La Rabida helped her learn how insulin dosages are calculated for weight and age and how to implement and tailor diabetes self-management education.
Tucker, a lifelong Hammond resident and graduate of the Hammond school system, credited Joan Culver, supervisor of nursing and health services for the School City of Hammond, for suggesting she become a CDE.
Culver said increased staff education is important when it comes to diabetes.
"We want the parents to feel like we're a resource," she said.
The top priority is children's health, but a close second is keeping them in school.
"We want them in class, ready to learn," Culver said. "They can't learn when they're not feeling well or hospitalized."
Tucker's interest in diabetes came from watching family members suffer its effects, whether kidney deterioration, loss of eyesight or loss of limbs.
At 170 pounds overweight, Tucker felt her life inching toward a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. She underwent gastric bypass surgery to drop pounds.
"Probably, if I would've kept the weight on two or three more months, I would've been Type 2," she said.