San Quentin Nurse Heals One Inmate at a Time

By Tommy Bryant
Journalism Guild Writer

Diabetes is a serious problem at San Quentin and Elina Appleton has made it her mission to help those affected.

“Most inmates have no idea what the disease is or how it affects them until they start losing toes, feet, legs, kidneys, go blind, have heart attacks and/or strokes,” said Appleton a licensed vocational nurse best known as “Red.”

The legendary H-Unit nurse filters a hundred questions and symptoms a week. Often the answers indicate diabetes. About 20 San Quentin inmates in H-Unit are on regular insulin treatment.

“Inmates with borderline A1C blood levels approaching 6.9 are the most likely candidates for Type II diabetes,” adds Appleton. Avoiding painful amputation and expensive medical care is clearly a win-win for inmates and taxpayers, she says.

She teaches a 10-week class that covers diabetes issues including using the glucose meter for healthcare management. “Once inmates observe their glucose levels most begin to watch what they eat and exercise after meals,” states Appleton.

“This class helped me to see people cared more about my life than I did, so I’m grateful,” said Morlin Dorgan, an inmate at H-Unit. He added, “Some of my peers have gotten parts cut off.”

“I now have the power to take control of my diabetes,” said another student inmate.

Inmate Dennis Bagwell, a diabetic for 30 years, said, “I have…lost sight in one eye due to diabetic complications. It is up to individuals to take control of diabetes before diabetes takes control of them.”

“The tough part is keeping sugar levels down with limited diet options,” inmate Demetrius Verdun said. Inmate Robert Craig suggested, “Everyone on the planet should be taking a program like this, whether you are diabetic or not.”

Philip Budweiser said he used to ignore diabetes because “I was depressed…I used food and sweets as a crutch. I would like to thank all of the San Quentin medical staff for the help and continuous support they have afforded me.”

Appleton said she entered a 100-Mile bike ride sponsored by Tour de Cure American Diabetes Association, which raised $1 million for research on diabetes.

She said diabetes affects more than 24 million people in the United States.


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