Sicily is renowned for many things, not the least of which are wonderful wines and flavorful foods. The best of both marry in a dish called Chicken Marsala — truly a signature taste of Sicily. The traditionally sweet sauce has been modified by DaVita renal dietitian Michelle of New York, who kept the traditional shallots in the wine sauce, but substituted dry Marsala for sweet.
Michelle attended New York University, and says she always enjoyed learning about food and health. “When I saw a profession that encompassed both, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I learned about dialysis during my internship, and got a better understanding when my grandfather started hemodialysis. I learned more about the diet and condition so I could help my family make the dietary changes he needed,” shares Michelle.
The job of a renal dietitian is both rewarding and challenging. Michelle comments that the challenging aspect is, “communicating with individuals resistant to dietary changes.” The rewarding aspect emerges when, “...a patient comprehends and makes changes, sees a positive result with good blood work and says thanks for helping them get to that level. When a patient shows gratitude for doing my job and they achieve success, it makes me feel great for them,” beams Michelle.
Michelle maintains visibility so her patients have access to their dietitian, and says, “I’m always out on the unit floor, walking around and asking patients if there is anything I can do for them. While I am mostly out there to see how and what they are eating, find out if they are taking their phosphorus binders and to answer nutrition related questions, I am also there to offer assistance in any way. My dialysis patients share personal stories, tell me if their medicines need to be refilled or if a new prescription is necessary so I can let the doctor or nurse know. I will also get my patients coffee or tea while they are on the dialysis machine. I try to do whatever I can to make their time pleasant during dialysis.”
Working in a renal unit has its enjoyable moments, and Michelle emphasizes that interaction with her dialysis patients is something she looks forward to, so she can track their daily progress. “I enjoy educating renal patients and their families, and enjoy seeing results. I am very friendly with all my patients, but am direct when it comes to the dialysis diet and phosphorus binder compliance. I try to offer substitute food choices instead of telling them to restrict foods altogether. I let them understand that there are other choices out there and suggest they try focusing on that instead of the negative,” says Michelle.
When it comes to educating her patients, Michelle looks for new ways to help get the dialysis diet information to stick. “My colleague, Lisa, and I engage our patients in a game where we have one high phosphorus food to avoid ‘red light’, and one low phosphorus food to choose ‘green light’. For example, a red light might be American cheese. A green light might be cream cheese. If they get the answer right, they get a prize such as a pen, pad, pillow or candy. The game engages their attention so much, that when they see me, they sometimes say the red light, green light foods before they say hello,” smiles Michelle.
Candy is a mainstay in Michelle’s pockets as she walks around the unit. When a new patient forgot her name one day, he shouted for the “Candy Girl” to come on over. Michelle chuckles, “So many people heard this I am still referred to as ‘the Candy Girl’ from time to time.”
Michelle has been with DaVita for 14 months. “I think DaVita is a great company that offers many opportunities and growth for dietitians. It is a patient-oriented company and I enjoy participating in activities and programs that foster patient education. I recently helped with our Wall of Fame (a wall in a DaVita dialysis center featuring pictures and fun facts about the patients and DaVita teammates at the center), where patients and teammates worked together to win an award. We won the award for our region, which was very exciting,” shares Michelle.
“DaVita is a great place to work because everyone works together as a team to provide dialysis patients with the best care. The unit is like a family and our patients are very appreciative and our teammates are supportive. I enjoy coming to work and being at work, because of the people. The location is very close to my parents, where I drop my daughter off with my mother, on the way to work,” says Michelle.
You may appreciate the delicious flavor of Michelle’s renal-friendly Chicken Marsala, This Sicilian dish has been handed down for generations, and Michelle’s sugar-reduced version proves the recipe is alive and well in New York.