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Maria Felligrino

Community Member, Southwest City, Missouri

My name is Maria Felligrino and I have almost 20 years living here in McDonald County. The truth is, I love it here. I come following my husband. My husband came to work in the USA. So after 11 months I followed him with my 3-year-old boy, and since that date, I lived here in McDonald County, two years in Noel and the rest of that time here in Southwest City, and I love it. I really like this place.

What has been your interaction with the local public health department?


When I start here in McDonald County, my son started in the Headstart. So the ladies in the Headstart start to talk to me about the health department for him, mainly WIC, the vaccinations and everything. So I went into the McDonald County Health Department. The people were so nice. They explained everything. So since that date I’m there with my kids. They help me with my pregnancies. I have two little kids, 10 years old and 9 years old, and they came from the McDonald County Health Department for sure!

My husband work so hard, but I do my pregnancies, because I’m sick with diabetes Type 1, I don’t work all the time. So the McDonald County Health Department help me with the health of my kids, orientation, and good programs to feed them well, to keep them active. They helped me with WIC and doing the shots for them.


How did you first learn you had diabetes?

I’m diabetic Type 1, and it started when I was 16 years old in Mexico City. Mainly, I don’t think we had a lot of information about Type 1, so they started to treat me with little pills, and it absolutely didn't work for me. I was worse and worse and worse. So finally I found an endocrinologist, and she helped me start with insulin and learn more about my diet, like don’t totally eat carbs. I'm better managing them the way I can and keep good levels of sugar. So, I’m 29 years a diabetic, I’m 45 now, and I’m so happy because I can measure my levels and keep my life without it, so I feel great.

How did you learn to manage your diabetes?


In the beginning they told me I have to be away from all the carbs – no pastas, no bread – and I love the Mexican bread. No tortillas, not some veggies because they have some levels of sugar, too.  So they take me away from everything. They just wanted me to eat lettuce and water, because I felt so bad at that time.


But then I started to learn a little bit about my diet, the right diet, so I know I can eat some carbs. I know how to measure my foods and how to mix them all. I know I have a smart plate, like veggies, cereals or grains, protein, fruit and milk or lactose. So I know how to balance my food now, and it’s a really important part of diabetic life, because if we take care of what we eat, we absolutely will be fine, you know. I know why my grandma told me “you are what you eat.” If you eat smart, for sure you will live a healthy and a smart life.

How do you manage your blood sugar?


I don’t have a lot of access to the good diabetic programs. I just have my meter. Every meal I test my sugar and see. It depends on what level of sugar I have, I have to measure how many units I need and control how many carbs I’m going to eat in that dinner, that meal. So I try to measure all my carbs and put beside my insulin shot, and it’s what I do every single day – measure my levels all the time, because when I miss it, for example, if I’m lazy to do that, later I notice my sugar is so high. Or if I don’t eat a good amount of food, and I use insulin, my sugar is going to be so low. So for me the main clue is keep my levels all the time. Look how much I have and look how much I need of insulin and mainly how much I’m going to eat in that meal. So measure, measure, measure. We need a lot of math.

The exercise is very important for me. I’m not that kind of an athletic lady – absolutely not, I’m lazy, but I love the garden, I love to walk. And here in Missouri we have beautiful views. I like to walk a lot. I think it’s my main thing. We have a lot of parks here in McDonald County. So I use the walking trails a lot. I like to see the waterfalls. I think you don’t have to be in the gym an hour or something like that, so I like to play with my plants. I garden – tomatoes, peppers for my salsas. And I like to walk. I think it is the most important thing, and when my kids play – they are still at an age where they want to play basketball, so I’m involved with them and try to play basketball with them, too. So I’m not really an exercising lady, but I try to keep active all the time.

What health challenges do you see in your community?


Here in Missouri, especially in the town I live in, it is very concerning how the people increase their volume. We eat a lot of junk food. We like the junk food because we are Hispanic. We like gorditas. We like tortas. Oh my gosh, I love them, too! But it’s really really high-carb food, so we have to control that. Yes, for sure, eat one gordita, not 20, you know, or five. One gordita – you can enjoy one or two and that’s it – measure your food. So I know in the Hispanic population, we sometimes don’t watch that, or we have to work too much and don’t do exercise, but I notice all the people are increasing their volume. Due to that we have more problems of blood pressure, diabetic sickness, and another problems, So it’s very important for Hispanic people to try to measure our food and take control of what we eat. We love sopas. We love gorditas, but we have to measure our portions, right – take care of our portions. If we eat one gordita in the evening, for lunchtime, for example, don’t eat the concha in the night, because you aren’t going to do any exercise in the night, so that carbs going to stay in your body. So, that leads to more health problems.

How would you recommend people live healthier lives?


Along my diabetic life I learned the colors and kinds of food. For sure we have to have a lot of greens, lot of reds, and a lot of orange and yellow colors, you know. Like, if we eat protein, it’s important to try to keep them the white, if it’s possible, like chicken, fish, that kind of healthy protein, and special, small amounts of the red protein. And its’ very important to eat the green colors, because I think the green is more healthy – like green veggies. I love zucchini. I love water squash is one of my favorite ones. I love nopales (cactus) – it’s so healthy. It’s recommended to eat it, and it’s good food. I love fruits like apples, all kind of fruit - but eat smart. Balance your plate with amounts of food – portions of food – and colors of food. It’s very important.


We have to have some grains. Rice is good, but don’t forget the rice increases our carbs. So, beans, for sure. The Hispanic people, we love beans. It’s one of our main foods, and corn, it’s a main food, too. We have to keep them in line and mix with all the veggies, for example, the posole. It’s a plate of meat and corn, but it’s really smart because you can put a lot of lettuce on it, and radishes, and onions, so you can have a salad over your posoles, so that works great. So mix everything. 

I think the Hispanic community is a really hard working people all the time. We work for our families. We are so together in the family, you know the grandpas, uncles, aunts – all the families stick together. If we are an example for the other ones, the little ones are going to learn, so that’s very important for me to  keep the family healthy, because we don’t want to follow the same problem. For example, my mom is diabetic, so probably, for sure I will be diabetic too. No, no, no, no – don’t be in that case. We have to increase our healthy life, because we have a way in this country. This country helps us a lot, with


the Health Department, for example, with orientation and good advice. So we have to follow that advice.

What advice do you have for others?

My only personal advice is keep healthy. Look at what you eat and the portions that you eat and try to eat as healthy as possible. The food is delicious no matter what it is! So keep eating as healthy as possible and keep active. I know we are so tired when we’ve done our work, but sometimes we have a little bit of energy to play with our kids, with our dogs, or to walk a little and see the view. So don’t miss that opportunity to move your body and keep healthy.

When you have a health condition, you always think different, because it can be your last minute, your last day. So what you need to do is enjoy. No matter how much you have - you can be poor or have no money or little money - but just always have something good to say 'thank you' to the Lord. So enjoy that, because you never know if you'll wake up tomorrow. So you have to enjoy today.

Maria Felligrino

Community Member

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