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Diabetes expert grew up around disease, helps generations of diabetics

Hinsdale –   Kate Watkins says Jacque McKernan saved her life. And all Jacque did was pull up a chair, pat Kate on the hand and listen.


About a year ago Watkins found out she had nephritis a chronic inflammation of the kidney – on top of her high blood pressure and diabetes. Watkins, a labor and delivery nurse at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital was used to taking care of other people, but was failing to take care of herself. So for the first time in a while, she decided to change that and set up her first meeting with McKernan, who runs the hospital-based Diabetes Education Center.


“She listened to everything I had to say, my whole story,” Watkins said. “She adjusted my insulin and gave me great nutrition tips. She just looked me in the eye and said we can fix this.”


doesn’t have the disease herself but three of her nine siblings had Type 1 Diabetes so she grew up with the constant injections and blood sugar checks that come with the disease. When she was nine, she gave her brother shots of insulin herself and as an adult diagnosed her sister.


“My sister called me because she didn’t feel well and had blurry vision,” McKernan said. “I told my mom to make a doctor appointment for her. I knew.”


Diabetes is a condition that affects the way the body uses food for energy. It occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the insulin it makes does not work effectively. According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States 8.3 percent of the population have diabetes. Another 79 million people are pre-diabetic.


“Diabetes is a huge issue, both nationally and locally,” said Shawn Tyrrell, chief nursing officer at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. “The community has such a resource in Jacque McKernan. Her knowledge, both academic and personal, is the greatest resource a diabetic can have. Until we have a cure, we have Jacque.”


McKernan has a PhD, a master’s degree and is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator. She worked for Adventist Hinsdale Hospital from 1971 to 1995 before leaving briefly and returning to the hospital in 2011. She sees all kids of diabetic patients including children with Type 1, young women with gestational diabetes and older adults struggling to control their Type 2 Diabetes.


Everyone’s story is different, McKernan said.


“For Kate, I just helped her understand that there is way to estimate how much insulin she needed for her food and how much insulin she needed to correct her high blood sugars,” she said.


Today, you’ll find McKernan, 71, in a small office in Elmwood Hall wearing lipstick, red gym shoes, a white lab coat and tweeting under the handle “Diabetty.” Most days, McKernan eats lunch at her desk, munching on peaches, Kale and cottage cheese while flipping through the latest diabetes research journals. Her office is full of books and plastic molds of bagels, apples and carrots she uses to teach newly diagnosed diabetics about food portions and how to count carbohydrates. 


And they listen.

Today Watkins is 60 pounds lighter and hardly resembles the photo on her work ID badge. She’s come a long way but still refers to herself as a “work in progress.”


“Jacque is a lovely person and genuinely wants people to feel better,” Watkins said. “There is simply nothing about diabetes that she doesn’t know.”


McKernan can be reached at (630) 856-6717. She
runs a monthly diabetes support group at Elmwood Hall the second Tuesday of every month that is open to the public. The next meeting is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on May 14.



Adventist Midwest Health includes Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, Adventist GlenOaks Hospital, Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. To find a physician, visit


Media contact: Sheila Galloro, public relations specialist, Adventist Midwest Health,; 630-856-2359.