Rena Goldhahn, R.N., CDE
Rena E. Goldhahn is a woman with a mission.
As a Certified Diabetes Educator, Goldhahn brings not only a wealth of education and training to her work, but also the kind of personal experience with the disease that makes her message utterly compelling.
Goldhahn, a 2004 graduate of IU’s College of LifeLong Learning, began her professional training at Philadelphia General Hospital’s Training School for Nurses, a renowned facility founded in the late 19th century by a student of Florence Nightingale. The first indication that Goldhahn might have problems regulating her blood sugar came in 1963 during her nursing training when she was sent to the infirmary because of high sugar but, as Goldhahn admits, “I ignored it.”
After completing the diploma program for her R.N., Goldhahn was employed at the 1,800-bed hospital as a neurology-neurosurgery supervisor until a strike—which went against what Goldhahn believed to be her purpose and duty as a nurse—spurred her and a friend to get in the car and go west as far as they could drive.
Arriving in Ventura, CA, they were informed that there were no nursing jobs there, but that they should go to Santa Barbara, to Cottage Hospital, the “Mayo Clinic of the West Coast,” and it was there that they were “hired on the spot.”
After a stint at Cottage Hospital, Goldhahn returned east, worked for Pennsylvania Hospital, got married, switched to West Park Hospital, and then moved to Albuquerque, NM where her husband, Richard, was assigned in the Air Force.
After devastating pregnancy losses, Goldhahn eventually gave birth to a son in 1973 delivered by C-section at 7 ½ months. “I frankly found out I had diabetes after that,” said Goldhahn.
Life went on for the Goldhahns, who also had two other children through adoption, and Goldhahn remained resigned to her disease. “I was in denial,” she said. “I felt better when my sugar was high, and I was convinced there was nothing that could be done to control it anyway. It was very different decades ago.”
In 1993, the NIH conducted research on Type I diabetes that changed diabetes education forever. The Diabetes Control & Complications Trial was published in December 1993; in March 1994, Goldhahn’s doctor “hit me over the head with the summary.”
According to the research, tight blood sugar control gave individuals with diabetes a better chance of saving their kidneys, their eyesight—virtually a better chance at preserving everything about their health—and Goldhahn’s physician was adamant that she could do this.
“I was out to prove him wrong,” said Goldhahn. “I agreed to his regimen, but I was convinced this deterioration was my fate, it was my genes, my cross to bear.”
Goldhahn was about to be the one who was proved wrong. Adhering to a strict dietary protocol combined with checking her blood sugar eight times a day, a pattern emerged and Goldhahn, working in cooperation with her physician, began to see dramatic results.
“In 1994 the insulin pen came out,” said Goldhahn, “and I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. We kept track of everything. Then I started having terrible pains in my legs and when I told my doctor, he was thrilled! It meant the neuropathy was reversing itself.”
A few months into the new program, Goldhahn was due at the ophthalmologist and, as Goldhahn put it, “He had never seen improvement like this. After I left his office I drove straight to the florist and sent my doctor flowers and a note thanking him for giving me my eyesight back.”
Goldhahn’s uncontrolled diabetes took an enormous toll; in a paper published in 1996 in RN magazine titled “I’m a Born Again Diabetic,” Goldhahn relates the devastating effects of the disease from ulcers to retinal aneurysms to neuropathy, as well as her remarkable “rebirth” as a result of following the DCCT protocol.
Goldhahn’s reinvention of herself proved to be more than just physical. “At some point I realized that in order to make an impact in nursing and as an educator, I needed my bachelor’s. I heard about the College of LifeLong Learning, that it had off-campus classes and a very flexible schedule, so I decided I didn’t care how old I was, I needed to do this.”
Goldhahn graduated magna cum laude, a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda, the premiere honor society for continuing education students, and IU’s Nursing Honor Society.
“I graduated with honors because of my professors at IU,” said Goldhahn. “The time they spent, the influence they had, the acceptance of my age—it was just a phenomenal experience. I think Dr. Janice Cranmer is a saint! She and Gail A. Lehner were instrumental in my getting a superior education at Immaculata.”
Today, Goldhahn works at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne teaching others how to manage their diabetes. “This is why I go to work every day,” said Goldhahn, whose favorite quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”
“If I can influence one person to care for themselves by controlling their diabetes,” she said, “I’ve done my day’s work.”
Goldhahn is currently pursuing a master’s in diabetes education and management through Teacher’s College at Columbia University. “I will finish up in 2015, unless I decide to double up on classes,” said Goldhahn. “I’ll be 73 when I graduate.”
For anyone else, that would be achievement enough. For Goldhahn, it’s destined to be just a beginning.