There are kidney-friendly recipes, and then there is Christine’s Quick Pan-Glazed Chicken, a dish fairly bursting with ingredients designed to tantalize the palate while still actively supporting the renal diet. Christine, a DaVita dietitian from New Jersey, modified a family recipe to create an entrée high in lean protein and antioxidants and low in saturated fats.
“I enjoy cooking and food,” says Christine. “Nutrition is a practical field. Everyone must eat to survive, and diet is an intricate part of health and well-being.”
A Jersey girl born and bred, Christine studied at Montclair State University and the College of Saint Elizabeth, where she discovered a passion for renal care.
“During my internship, I developed a love for outpatient nutrition,” says Christine. “It just so happened that I obtained a position in the same location where I completed my renal internship program.”
Our biggest challenges can often become our greatest rewards, and this is certainly true for Christine. Because her clinic serves a largely immigrant population, Christine runs into cultural and dietary patterns that can conflict with the renal diet. The way Christine sees it this keeps things interesting. “We are a blend of different cultures and have patients with a wide variety of dietary, educational and economic backgrounds,” she says. “You cannot get bored here!”
Regardless of background, no two people are the same, and Christine knows this. “Each patient may need to be approached differently,” she adds. “Some are serious; some like to joke. Some are very well-educated, while some are illiterate.”
One thing that remains constant in Christine’s approach to patient care is the willingness to be flexible. “Most of the time, I will approach patients lightly, providing them with ways to navigate around the ‘strict’ dialysis diet, trying to keep their diets as liberal as possible. Some require ‘tough love’, however, with doses of reality mixed in.”
She also emphasizes the need to maintain consistency. “Bottom line is you must know your patients,” notes Christine. “Each one has to be approached according to their personality and stage of change that they are in. Regularly seeing your patients is a must!”
Awareness and empowerment are powerful tools, and Christine encourages this attitude in her patients. “It’s important that they recognize they have a medical issue, and understand that there are some aspects still in their control,” she says. To this end, Christine created a notebook of recipes - some renal-friendly and some not – and uses it to engage her patients in their own decision making.
“I ask the patient whether the recipe is OK for them to prepare or if there are ingredients that are not acceptable,” she says. “If there are unacceptable ingredients, I ask the patient to modify the recipe so that it is acceptable. This puts my patients in a practical daily situation.”
For Christine, the most rewarding aspect of the job is “seeing my patients improve, knowing that dietary education makes an impact on their health.” It’s also the part of her job that she enjoys the most: “Education – love it!”
The best teachers are the ones who keep learning, and Christine is especially open to this. “I had a patient who was rather tough and openly non-adherent. Besides loving to ride his Harley, he also enjoyed large portions of dangerous foods for a dialysis patient. I secretly think he took great pleasure in telling me that he drank 10 ounces of orange juice every morning,” she laughs. “High potassium and phosphorus levels were a given, and this patient would easily gain 7 kilograms of fluid weight in between treatments on average.”
This is problematic, since it’s important to keep potassium and phosphorus levels low and fluids to a minimum for optimal health in dialysis patients.
“He would even throw out his report card at the end of his treatment in front of other patients and clinical teammates,” she continues. “One day, I was playing high-phosphorus bingo with the other patients on his shift. As I was handing out bingo cards, I skipped over him since he was usually disagreeable about participating in different activities.”
The patient surprised Christine, calling out after her, asking for his bingo card. She assumed he was just trying to be funny at first, but he was serious.
“It turns out that he regularly went to play bingo with his mother, and loved playing!” she exclaims. “It just goes to show you that you cannot assume anything!”
With her love for learning, Christine especially appreciates the wealth of educational materials available for use at the DaVita clinic where she has worked for the past eight and a half years. Another plus is the clinic’s location inside a hospital. “Our patients have quick access to medical care if needed,” she adds.
As with most jobs, it’s not so much where you work as how you work, and for Christine, that’s what makes her clinic so special. Communication and community flow naturally, despite being a large center with multiple shifts and over 130 patients.
“There is a bond that is formed between patients and teammates,” she observes. “It’s not uncommon to see patients helping other patients in a variety of ways. We’re like one big family.”
Speaking of family, Christine’s Quick Pan-Glazed Chicken was inspired by her own mother Luann’s original recipe. Lucky for us, Christine’s version of this savory dish is so kidney friendly it’s practically kidney magic.