Motivation. Support. Knowledge. Inspiration.

The seven patients participating in a round-table discussion said they have gained several different things during the year they've been meeting. But all of those patients have bonded over one common factor -- diabetes.

Last year, First Care Clinic in Hays started a free education series to address common ailments: hypertension, pain, diabetes and stress. The classes are intended to give patients education and support to make healthy lifestyle changes, said Deanna Bombardier, patient care coordinator at First Care Clinic.

"One thing I've learned from my career is somebody might not have to know all this data and have all this expertise medically," she said. "But if someone shows you they truly care about you, and you feel that connection -- that no matter what I bring to the table they're going to be there and help -- it is just huge.

"And we need more of that in life."

The atmosphere was laid back last week as the diabetes patients gathered for an educational presentation and to discuss their victories and struggles. They laughed, traded recipes and shed a few tears as they reflected on the progress they have made.

Each participant was handed a small piece of paper recording their weight and blood sugar levels compared to last year's numbers. One participant was on the verge of tears after seeing the progress she has made during the past year.

"I don't think I had anybody whose hemoglobin and A1Cs went up," Bombardier said. "It's not just the doctors; it's not just the medicine. It's your work also, and you should be very proud of that."

The classes meet at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. each Wednesday in the clinic's basement, 105 W. 13th. Everyone is welcome to attend, regardless of whether they are a patient at the clinic.

Carl A. Smith is among the patients who regularly has been attending the class. He said the class helps him stay educated about new technology and medical findings.

But he's gotten much more than that, he said, describing how he shared his struggle to give up his favorite snack -- potato chips. Another class member was able to give him a sweet potato recipe to alleviate his cravings, he said.

"That gave me an entirely different food product to eat, as opposed to what I was doing, and I never would have thought of that on my own," Smith said.

Smith has learned the value of making healthy choices the hard way. After being diagnosed in 1994, he became so discouraged that, for a time, he began eating whatever he wanted, regardless of his blood sugar levels.

"My numbers flew off the charts," he said. "I said, 'OK, I've got to do this for me. I can't do this for everybody else.' ... I realized God put me here for a reason."

The class members and their instructors also have been able to develop caring friendships as they support each other in good times and bad, Bombardier said, noting she also has learned a great deal from the class members.

"Here we get rid of all the junk, all the stereotypes, all that society's put (on us), and we just get down to the simple fact of what's really important," she said.

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Class schedule:

First Wednesday of the month: Hypertension

Second Wednesday: Pain management

Third Wednesday: Diabetes

Fourth Wednesday: Stress management

Classes are free and all are welcome. For more information, call Bombardier at (785) 621-4990.