Lyle Etsitty, BS CHW (Diné/Navajo)

Fit Families Program Supervisor, Tsehootsooi Medical Center Public Health Nutrition Department

2016 Local Impact Award recipient, National Indian Health Board

Certified National Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach

Lyle Etsitty, Certified as a Community Health Worker and National Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach, has worked for the Tsehootsooi Medical Center Public Health Nutrition Department in various capacities, including as Coordinator for the Fit Families Program.  He had earned Dean’s List honors while completing studies in Public Health and Nutrition at the University of New Mexico.  He was raised bilingually in the Diné/Navajo nation and has made it a mission to be of service to the public health needs of his communities, drawing both upon professional training and upon his remarkable personal experience in addressing chronic disease.  His contributions have been fittingly recognized by the National Indian Health Board via a 2016 Local Impact Award.

Lyle throughout childhood and college years found academic success, but always faced grave challenges related to lifestyle and eating, drifting steadily more toward the fare of fast food restaurants.  He always understood superficially that he was overweight, but never received glimpses of the dangers that may be involved until a fateful visit to the office of a primary care physician.  There, the industrial capacity scale revealed a weight of 498 pounds, and an alarming series of diagnoses soon emerged….  type 2 diabetes marked by a hemoglobin A1c reading of 7.8;  primary hypertension;  pulmonary hypertension;  edema;  and sleep apnea.  Although daily life became reduced to a routine of eating, nearly continuous napping, inability to work, and the juggling of nine or more medications, Lyle still did not recognize he may be in a life threatening situation, until he was rushed unconscious to a hospital emergency room due to congestive heart failure.

Upon discharge after a week, still heavily dependent upon supplemental oxygen, Lyle was urged by his mother and grandmother to start eating a Navajo plant-based diet, an approach traditionally associated with a wide variety of potential medicinal effects.  He gave this a try, patiently experimenting and adapting month after month, eating meals focused on fiber-rich plant foods, drinking large amounts of water and acclimating himself to gradually increased levels of exercise.  He was amazed to find steady improvements in his physical mobility, his ability to breathe, and his nighttime sleep, all as accompaniment to dramatically accelerating weight loss.  Within a couple of years, he no longer had any clinical signs of pulmonary hypertension or sleep apnea, his A1c level had dropped to 4.6, and his weight had dropped to 214 pounds….  a cumulative loss of 284 pounds!

Lyle’s work in public health has largely been shaped by profound lessons learned via his own personal journey of challenge and triumph:  the extraordinary potential for daily lifestyle changes to reverse the course of some major diseases and to enhance the quality of life;  the enormous rewards that may greet patience invested in those long-term changes;  and the crucial role played by the support of one’s family members along the way.

Lyle was a co-presenter at the annual 2015 and 2016 American Association of Diabetes Educators conferences.  His service at the Tsehootsooi Medical Center in Fort Defiance, Arizona has encompassed an extremely wide array of functions, such as:  leading weekly Diabetes Management educational classes for type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes patients;  providing hands-on food selection and preparation demonstrations for community members at local chapter houses and at grocery stores;  establishing collaborations with the Navajo CHR program, Dine Behavioral Health Services, Navajo Nation Department of Health and other nonprofit and governmental entities;  and conducting personal community outreach both in the Navajo and English languages.  He has committed his future work to health betterment among his fellow citizens.