Marci (Olson) Butcher ’89 received the 2017 National Diabetes Educator of the Year award from the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES) and now she has been selected as an ADCES Fellow this year.
Butcher has worked in diabetes care in Montana for the last 30 years, but her interest in diabetes was amplified while at Concordia.
“I have always been fascinated by ‘diabetes’ as a health condition and was given so many opportunities to explore that when I went to Concordia as a food/nutrition and biology major thinking of becoming a registered dietitian,” Butcher said. “I did every research paper and every clinical opportunity with diabetes as the focus. I was so grateful to have been supported and encouraged by department professor Dr. Betty Larson.”
After finishing her dietetic internship in Salt Lake City, she pursued a position where she could work with people living with diabetes and took a job as the county dietitian for the Big Horn County Health Department in Hardin, Mont., near the Crow Indian Reservation.
“I found my calling and my passion there in that small, very rural, disadvantaged community and surrounding area,” she said.
Butcher says Indigenous peoples in Montana have at least double the rate of diabetes as compared to non-Indigenous peoples, with accompanying higher risk for the debilitating complications of diabetes – amputations, blindness, dialysis, heart attack, or stroke.
“The community, despite the scourge of diabetes, was fighting to be well,” Butcher said. “The beautiful and gracious Crow and Northern Cheyenne people inspired me to ‘dive in.’”
There was one family that solidified that spark for her focus. She had been working with a grandmother who was caring for her grandchildren. When Butcher inquired about the elder’s own health, she learned that not only did the grandmother have diabetes with its many complications, she was worried about being able to continue caring for her grandchildren and also that many of her family members had diabetes.
As a very new dietitian, Butcher knew she didn’t have all the answers but was willing to listen and learn. After a while, she ended up standing outside her office to accommodate the six or seven family members who came to see if they could work on their diabetes too and Butcher realized you have to work with the whole family.
A few months later, Butcher took a job working at one of the largest hospitals in Montana and she and her husband would be moving to Billings. The last week of work, the grandmother she first worked with brought her a hand-beaded barrette Butcher knew she had spent many hours to fashion. It was a gift and moment she would never forget.
During that time, Butcher’s husband, Jason, had been working as a teacher and coach in a community two hours away for several months and she hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks.
“When he walked through the door, I dropped to my knees,” she said.
Her husband looked gaunt losing 25 pounds he couldn’t afford to lose. The 25-year-old was thirsty all the time and made numerous trips to the bathroom. Type 1 diabetes now touched her own family.
“Between those two very life-changing events, I have come to serve as a diabetes care and education specialist for my whole career,” she said. “My own family lives with diabetes every day, and I’m so very thankful that my husband rocks his diabetes self-management, now having lived with this condition for 28 years.”
Butcher has been working on increasing access to diabetes education for the Montana Diabetes Program (MT DPHHS) in Helena since 2000. She’s also consulted for other organizations and committees, served on the Montana leadership team for the ADCES, and developed and led the Diabetes Prevention Community of Interest for ADCES nationally.
Butcher says the pandemic has made caring for diabetes exceptionally difficult and data shows diabetes as an underlying condition for 40 percent of patients who were hospitalized and died of COVID-19. People with diabetes spend 2.3 times more than those who don’t have diabetes. If the trend continues, by the year 2050, 1 in 3 people will have Type 2 diabetes, so major efforts into reducing the risk for Type 2 diabetes need to be executed.
Butcher feels there should be a national effort to help youth and families with healthy lifestyles while they are young when they can truly impact their own health journey over their lifetime. A national effort should tackle health and social disparities, as people are impacted by their living situation and the communities in which they live. She hopes the country can tackle those social determinants of health (SDoH) to positively impact families, communities, and the nation’s health as a whole.
“I was incredibly blessed for my liberal arts education at Concordia, one that not only helped me to prepare for my career but one that helped me to prepare for an engaged life. I was taught critical thinking skills, to be curious, ask questions, take risks, and to dive in,” Butcher said. “I was supported by professors who cared about me, so I’d also say that the relationships I built there were just as important as the education I received. I have a love of learning even now and my time at Concordia lives with me every day, helping me to continue to grow.“