How One Woman Climbed the Stairs and Transformed Her Life

Posted on Feb 14th 2017 by Karen Thompson

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“When it rains, it pours” is a proverb meaning that sometimes, misfortunes tend to follow in quick succession or arrive all at the same time. We’ve all been there – looking for an umbrella to get us out of the storm. Deanna Stewart, a Referral Specialist at University of Florida’s UF Health Women’s Specialists in Jacksonville, recently had her own personal downpour, but through a lot of hard work, determination and a special program offered by Florida Blue and GatorCare, she’s finally seeing sunny skies.

Deanna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. She endured two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, developed sepsis and nearly died. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea, a triple threat of health issues to go on top of what she was already dealing with. That, however, was just the beginning. Next came a hysterectomy. Then the discovery of a spinal issue (and another surgery to fix that) and a tumor in her foot, both of which almost completely robbed her of her mobility.

“For the last four years, I’ve hardly been able to walk,” said Deanna. “I could barely stand from a chair and walking a few feet was excruciating. I gained a lot of weight from the chemo and not being mobile. My life was being spent in my bed and on medication that made me a zombie. I was ready for a change.”

That change came in the form of inControl Diabetes, a program offered through her employer’s Employee Wellness Program. The six-month program guides participants through modules on the importance of nutrition, exercise and medication adherence. Florida Blue provides GatorCare with two onsite, full-time health educators (one located in Jacksonville, one located in Gainesville) to provide wellness support to GatorCare members like Deanna.

Once unable to walk a few steps, Deanna is now climbing the stairs at her office and getting in five to six flights a day. That’s more than exciting – it’s transformative.

“There are three flights of stairs in my building,” explained Deanna. “Every day, I walk up all three, then go down the hall, back down the stairs and back up again. I was so excited when I first did it – it was such a triumph! I force myself to climb the stairs every day even if I don’t want to. I even get my coworkers on board to do it with me.”

Deanna credits the inControl program as a key to her success.  

“The health educator really connected with me and let me know I wasn’t alone,” she said. “That made a big difference. I could talk to her one-on-one and call her whenever I needed. I am so happy GatorCare had this program available for UF Health employees and to know that someone cares and is there to help you.”

Kathryn Gay, Florida Blue onsite representative located at UF Health Jacksonville, facilitated inControl Diabetes and worked closely with Deanna.

“We’re finding that participants really enjoy the program and they’ve been encouraging their peers to attend. We’re so proud of Deanna for the exciting progress she’s made – it’s been wonderful to watch. I’m lucky to have a job where I can help people on their journeys to become their better selves!”

Now a five-year breast cancer survivor, Deanna is enjoying her health and walking pain free. After all, she has 12 grandchildren to keep up with.

“You can do anything as long as you put your mind to it,” she stressed. “Just take the first step – you never know where it will lead.”

Hopefully, for Deanna, it leads to many more sunny days with not a cloud in sight.


GatorCare is a consolidated group health coverage, available to eligible employee groups associated with the University of Florida/Shands and its affiliates. GatorCare currently serves over 37,000 members and is administered by Florida Blue. 


Filed under: Healthy Living  

Karen Thompson

Karen Thompson is a Communications Consultant for Florida Blue. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her two rescued pit bulls and hanging out with her friends and family. You can follow her on Twitter at @ktmarieFL.

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