Profile: Kathryn Sumpter, MD

Le Bonheur Endocrinologist Kathryn Sumpter, MD, never intended to pursue medicine. But a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes as a junior in college changed her life. She began to grow interested in the ways the medical field could impact the lives of others.

“I loved science but never wanted to be a doctor,” said Sumpter. “After experiencing a different side of the medical field while learning to navigate a new diabetes diagnosis, I realized that I wanted to help people learn to manage and live with diabetes.”

While attending the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, she initially assumed that she would want to care for adults – not children. It was during her pediatric rotations that she realized children actually make better patients.

Now, as clinical director of the diabetes program at Le Bonheur, Sumpter is looking for ways to keep her patients out of the hospital. The hospitalization rates for children with diabetes in Memphis are higher than national averages, at least partially due to the burdens of poverty and stress many patients experience. Since joining Le Bonheur in 2017, Sumpter has sought to help her patients with uncontrolled diabetes live a better life while managing their diagnosis.

“Twelve of our diabetes patients were causing about half of the hospitalizations for the entire clinic due to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA),” said Sumpter. “Learning to take care of diabetes isn’t rocket science but it requires a lot of steps. The hard part is getting children, especially teenagers, and their families to take all of those steps every day.”

Last January, Sumpter launched the Fresh Start Clinic with the goal of giving hope to children at the highest risk of diabetes-related complications by improving their knowledge about their condition and providing family-centered care. Sumpter is joined by a multi-disciplinary team including nurses, diabetes educators, dietitians, social workers and a psychologist. The team assesses each area of the patient’s life and focuses on areas that affect a patient’s ability to manage diabetes.

Many of the children who enter Sumpter’s clinic have diabetes distress, a term used to describe the emotional burdens and concerns specifically associated with managing their chronic disease every day. Diabetes distress can lead to patients ignoring their disease, which can worsen diabetes control.

“My goal is to provide encouragement to children and their families – to show them that I’ve been in their shoes and that it is possible to live a full life with Type 1 Diabetes,” said Sumpter. “We want to give them hope by celebrating their successes and promoting incremental change.”

That incremental change comes in a variety of ways. The clinic focuses on the health of the whole patient in a way that is difficult to replicate in a traditional outpatient clinic. Education is a large component of the program so that children understand diabetes and its effects. The team also works on goal setting – identifying and tracking what small changes children and families are willing to make that will reduce hospitalization and improve quality of life for the patient.

Sumpter has already seen results from the new approach to diabetes management. Three patients have graduated from the program and 75 percent of the clinic patients were not admitted to the hospital for DKA treatment in 2018.

But Sumpter’s innovation in diabetes management has only begun. With a grant from the Urban Child Institute, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the health of Mid-South children, she’ll launch Fresh Start 2.0 in the summer of 2019. This program aims to reach the next group of patients who need a higher level of care in managing diabetes.

“We have more than 600 diabetes patients in our practice and many of them have poor diabetes control,” said Sumpter. “Although they are not hospitalized at the same rate as our Fresh Start Clinic patients, on their current path they will have long term damage to their bodies from continued high blood sugar.”

This program will include community health workers visiting patients’ homes to assist with creating plans and goals for diabetes management.

At the end of the day, Sumpter’s passion is to help children with diabetes live the life that they deserve. “This is a chronic condition that requires lots of work,” said Sumpter. “But if we can manage these things, there is no reason that life shouldn’t be normal for children with diabetes. It is rewarding to see someone with diabetes begin to feel like there is hope and that they are going to be OK.”

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