It should come as no surprise that Pasta Salad and Shish Kebabs sound like the perfect thing to bring to a barbeque, because that's what inspired Dawn, a DaVita dietitian from Ohio, to create these kidney-friendly recipes in the first place. "I modified a family recipe and made them for a patient cookout," Dawn says. "Patients, families and staff all liked the recipe."
The great thing about both recipes is the fact that they're so versatile: you can make them in advance, cook them inside or out and they're suitable for everything from a party to a family meal. This kind of logic is something that comes naturally to Dawn, and is one of the reasons she became a dietitian in the first place. "I like math and science, was interested in food and nutrition and I enjoyed teaching," Dawn explains. "Dietetics offered a blend of my interests."
A Midwestern girl born and bred, Dawn studied medical dietetics at Ohio State University. Her specialization in kidney care was a natural evolution. "I was working as a dietitian in the outpatient clinic in a hospital, and I was given the dialysis unit," she says. "I soon discovered how much I liked working as a renal dietitian. I've never wanted to leave the field."
Dawn has 20 years of renal dietetics under her belt, and has been with DaVita for the past three years. "I enjoy working with dialysis patients at DaVita," she notes. "I value the caring, supportive atmosphere, and the high standards of care for patients that DaVita promotes. I also appreciate that DaVita provides opportunities and support for teammates to help them provide the best care they can. The online access to a wealth of information for patient education is amazing."
For the past three years, Dawn has worked simultaneously at two different DaVita clinics. "Both units were new, with only a few patients, when I first started working at them," Dawn says. "It has been special being part of the growth and development of the units, and establishing relationships with patients from the time they first came to our clinics."
The fact that Dawn herself is an Ohio native gives her an edge on patient care. "Since I grew up in the area, I am familiar with places that patients go to eat or shop, which gives me a better understanding of the patients," she adds.
Dawn is committed to fostering education and a two-way dialogue. "My goal is to help patients understand the impact of renal failure and dialysis, and show them how to deal with it in their lives," she says. "My approach is to get to know my patients, especially as it relates to their eating habits, to teach how renal failure affects them and explain why we make various recommendations. I make sure they know where and how to make changes, and provide ongoing support and encouragement."
And while Dawn acknowledges the challenges of helping people adapt to changes in their diets in order to manage kidney disease, "especially when their favorite foods are the ones they need to limit or avoid," she says it's always worth it. "The most rewarding aspect of my job is when patients start feeling better with dialysis, and taking the initiative to incorporate our recommendations into their lives."
Dawn's strongest recommendation to her patients is to "follow the advice of the healthcare team, because the more 'normal' they keep their blood work and fluids, the healthier they will be."
The fact that Dawn genuinely loves her work aids in her effectiveness as a dietitian. "I enjoy getting to know my patients and building trust with them," she notes. "My patients know that I care about them, and that I am trying to help them."
One of the ways she does that is by showing patients that the kidney diet can be healthy and delicious, all at the same time. "Taste testing and Lobby Days [educational food fairs open to patients and their families] are popular with our patients, providing opportunities to try tasty, renal-friendly foods," she observes. "I always try to include some recipes from DaVita.com. I am amazed at all the resources available online through DaVita. The homemade ice cream made from non-dairy creamer was a big hit last summer."
Lucky for the rest of us, Dawn believes in participatory recipe building. We expect her Pasta Salad and Shish Kebabs will go on to become big hits with the online kidney community here at DaVita before long.