The South is famous for savory, down-home cooking, and Merlene, a DaVita renal dietitian from Michigan, shares her favorite family recipe, Louisiana Style Stewed Chicken and Rice. Merlene was born and raised in the south and attended Southern University, Baton Rouge before living all over the United States. Although she’s been away from her home town for many years, according to her dialysis patients and coworkers, she maintains her southern hospitality and charm.
Bringing warmth and a sense of community is Merlene’s special touch. She has personal relationships with her dialysis patients, and like any good southern hostess, she connects them to each other. “Introducing new patients to other patients that have been on dialysis is very effective and helpful. My biggest challenge is getting a patient to understand that dialysis is a new lease on life; not the end of life, as many of them are feeling.” By helping patients develop meaningful relationships with each other, Merlene helps nurture new, positive attitudes.
The most important aspect to Merlene’s job is seeing her patients improve the quality of their health. “My biggest reward is observing the change in a patient’s physical condition as a result of a couple of dialysis treatments. The most important thing a patient can do to help themselves is to follow the prescribed treatment modality which includes complying with their treatment schedule, compliance with medication regimen and following dietary guidelines,” she says.
Merlene’s compassion is endless. “I can relate to the dialysis patient from both a personal and professional experience. By being a support vehicle for patients and their families, I make a difference in their lives. I am very easy to approach; slow to introduce diet information. Diet information is provided based on the patient’s individual eating pattern and lifestyle. After I get to know the patient better and establish trust, I can really help them,” reveals Merlene.
Many of Merlene’s dialysis patients are elderly, and she has some fun strategies for keeping them motivated. “Approximately 80% of my patients are in nursing homes; so with the Wall of Fame (a wall in a DaVita dialysis center featuring pictures and fun facts about the patients and DaVita teammates at the center), we try to do something that will lift their spirits and make them feel good about themselves. This year, we took their pictures of their faces and placed them on persons with suits, formalwear, sportswear, etc. topped off with them riding in a sports car. We received comments from family and patients such as: ‘I used to dress like that,’ ‘How did you know that my first car was red,’ and many other such comments,” shares Merlene.
Merlene’s patients adore her as much as she adores them. “I really look forward to seeing my patients and hearing their comments if I am absent from them for a couple of treatments.”
Her calling to dietetics and education came very early; however, Merlene thought she would take a different road when she began college. “My first choice was to become a home economics teacher. I became very dissatisfied with ripping out what I had just sewn over and over again. It was recommended to my parents that I change my major to foods and nutrition. I had a dietetic internship with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Los Angeles, California and got my masters’ degree from Long Beach State University, Long Beach, California. I eventually came to the renal field by promotion within the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center,” she says, adding, “Renal and nutrition support positions were the highest grades below the supervisory level.”
Merlene has been making a difference at DaVita since 2000. “I really like that there are so many training opportunities available to enhance my expertise and skills that are not directly related to nutrition but help to improve patient care. An example is to understand how mishandling labs can affect results. There are so many great tools available.”
If you are looking for a way to make a difference around the dinner table, look no further than Merlene’s family recipe for Louisiana Style Stewed Chicken and Rice. This dialysis diet recipe is simple to make and brings the rich flavor of Southern cuisine home to your family.