It should come as no surprise that DaVita dietitians chose the pineapple as their logo. What better representation for these diet angels than a super food that’s sweet, delicious and kidney-friendly? Pineapples are a good source of vitamin C and naturally low in potassium. Laura, a DaVita dietitian from Georgia, shines the spotlight on this wonderful ingredient with her mouthwatering Pineapple Cake, an original recipe that’s been in her family for over 35 years.
And giving in to her patients' pleas for new ways to approach a renal-friendly pasta sauce, Laura also brings us her creative take on primavera sauce. When it comes to pasta, primavera is a light and savory alternative to some of the heavier sauces. "This is an adaptation of a recipe I have been making since 1990," she says of her Primavera Sauce for Pasta."Patients are always asking me about what to put on their spaghetti!"
An interest in food and diet took hold of Laura at a relatively young age. “I wanted to be a dietitian from the time I was in Junior High School when I read a popular nutrition book,” she recalls. Her path was pretty much cemented when the school nurse gave her a flyer for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
Born in California and raised in Alaska, Laura credits the rest of her travels to that early interest in dietetics. She studied at New Mexico State University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas before settling down in Georgia. “I had several renal dietitian friends who thought I would like the field, and when the opportunity arose in Georgia, I applied,” she says.
While she laughs that it can be a challenge “getting in early enough for the early shift patients,” Laura says the benefits of her job far outweigh everything else. “I love seeing those labs come into range!” she enthuses. “And I love being able to have an ongoing relationship with the patients.”
Laura’s approach with her patients is similar to the Chinese proverb that says if you give a man a fish you can feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish you can feed him for a lifetime. She believes the single most important thing patients can do to improve their health is to “become their own advocate by educating themselves and taking an active role in their own care.”
Not one to talk down to people, Laura explains rather than lectures. “I help them understand why they need to follow their diet and take their binders,” she says. “I do my best to make their diet practical and do-able.”
This often involves creativity, particularly when it comes to clarifying the protein needs of those following the kidney diet. “I tell them to imagine they are football players, and to eat the amount of meat a football player needs,” she says.
It helps that Laura’s patients aren’t just numbers on a clipboard to her. “I like to make a human connection with them, and see things from their point of view,” she notes. This personal approach is all the more satisfying when it pays off. “I love it when the light bulbs come on!” she says. “I love helping them design a diet of foods they can actually enjoy. I love to see their health improve, and I love their smiles and friendly words.”
Laura has been with DaVita for one year, and credits the organization with helping foster a warm, encouraging atmosphere. “I enjoy the fact that upper management is trying to operate a company that has a human face and a human heart,” she notes. “At DaVita, the financial bottom line is not the only bottom line.”
Laura adds that DaVita uses “the concept of a ‘village’ in which the quality of life of teammates and patients matters.” This approach was made startlingly clear to her on her first day at the center. Without even having been introduced, a complete stranger gave her “a big hug” upon hearing that she was the new dietitian. “He was the medical director of the entire clinic,” she says. “I have felt appreciated and valued from the first day!”
That sense of appreciation goes both ways, too. “I have the best boss,” Laura enthuses. “She has been very supportive of me from the word go. She has an inclusive management style, and always wants to hear from us in order to make things better.”
Laura’s defining trait is her enthusiastic optimism. Where some might perceive obstacles, Laura sees exciting challenges. New clinic on the block? That just means “our whole team gets to learn the DaVita way, which makes us special,” she exclaims. How about the fact that the center serves such a high risk community? “I like being able to do my best toward lessening that risk,” says Laura.
A great way to promote healthy living with kidney disease is to make the kidney diet as mouth-watering and accessible as possible. When DaVita’s dietitians chose the glorious pineapple as their logo, it was because they’d seen it as the perfect representation of their most valued qualities - community, friendship and warmth. Delicious, easy to make and suitable for the renal diet, Laura's Primavera Sauce for Pasta and Pineapple Cake recipes go a long way toward honoring those values.