Heather A., a DaVita renal dietitian from Georgia, has cooking and entertaining in her blood. Her love for food has been passed down from her great grandmother, whose revolutionary view on cooking for large groups helped change the face of institutional cooking and entertaining. Heather’s vast knowledge of nutrition, combined with what she learned from her amazing role models, makes her a passionate member of the DaVita team. Heather shares two of her family recipes that are delicious, satisfying and easy to prepare. Heather’s Blueberry Dream Muffins are the perfect sweet snack or an excellent addition to a light meal. Her Tuna Pasta Salad is filled with protein, healthy veggies and lots of yummy flavor. Taste some of Heather’s family history.
Growing up, Heather learned the magical effect that a well-prepared meal can have on a family. “I have always been interested in food and nutrition. I learned to cook at an early age and enjoyed planning menus and helping prepare foods for family gatherings. I cooked my first Thanksgiving meal at age 15,” she says.
Heather comes from a long line of culinary innovators. She shares, “My great grandmother was an inspiration — she started a school lunch program when my grandfather was in grade school before the National school lunch program began. She worked as the cafeteria manager at that school for 42 years. I was always delighted when she enjoyed a dish I prepared. My great grandmother was pleased when I chose this profession and she even gave me her copy of the book “Food for Fifty” (© 1953).
Becoming a dietitian was an easy choice for Heather. “When I took a nutrition class during college I knew instantly that this was the field for me. Food is both a source of nutrition and enjoyment. I like being able to teach people how to combine good nutrition with good taste,” says Heather.
Heather was attracted to the renal field early on, she remembers, “Renal was my favorite rotation during my internship. It is a challenging field and covers many health aspects outside of the usual high blood pressure and diabetes. We have patients with lupus, cancer, gastric bypass, Crohn’s disease, etc. — all conditions which contribute to nutritional needs. I enjoy the long-term care aspect of working in dialysis — working with the same patients for many years allows you to learn about that patient and helps you to individualize their plan of care based on each patient’s educational and nutritional needs.”
DaVita is a natural extension of Heather’s family values of mixing food with enjoyment. “We love to have fun! Every day at work is fun, and any occasion to celebrate is special to us. Dressing up for Halloween, giving out Easter and Valentine ‘goody bags’ to patients, planning a Christmas party for patients or celebrating achieving goals with a teammate party. These are just a few examples of ways we celebrate our teammates and patients. Our teams really enjoy each others company and have a lot of fun together,” says Heather.
Heather’s early, nutritional education is her biggest strength and sometimes her biggest challenge. “I have to constantly remind myself that my patients are still learning. Information that is easy for me to understand is often difficult for them to comprehend,” admits Heather, adding, “I have an individualized approach — goal setting and individualized meal plans for patients based on current outcomes and trends. I try to give them practical advice that will make understanding their diets easier.”
The first step to helping her patient’s is learning about them. “I try to get to know patients as an individual — their lifestyle and living situation play a huge role in planning their care. Doing this helps me to tailor their education and meal plan to each patient’s unique considerations and needs,” explains Heather.
Heather believes patients need to develop an interest in their medical conditions too. “The most important thing a patient can do to improve their health is to practice effective communication with their health care team. Listen to the team’s advice and ask questions if you don’t understand,” counsels Heather.
Heather feels her relationship with her patients is a two-way street. “I really enjoy getting to know them and learning from them — particularly the older generation. They have so much knowledge and experience to offer. My biggest reward is seeing a patient feel better and say ‘Thank you’,” she states.
Caring for her patients is her number one priority, but Heather’s second passion is becoming a chronic kidney disease (CKD) advocate. “Even after working at DaVita for over eight years, I am constantly amazed to find so many people are unaware of the risk factors for CKD. We have come a long way with CKD awareness but still have a lot of work to do,” she says.
Heather is an advocate for CKD patients everywhere and spreads her knowledge by sharing two delicious dialysis diet recipes. Take this opportunity to tickle your taste buds with Heather’s delicious family recipes. Her Blueberry Dream Muffins are perfect for breakfast or with a lunchtime salad, and Heather’s Tuna Pasta Salad is light and mouthwatering.
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