Teen with High Cholesterol Gets Healthy with Help from Family Pediatrician


At a regular checkup to see her family pediatrician, 13-year old Danielle Martinez learned that her cholesterol levels were dangerously high. With triglycerides at 460, she was more than 300 points above the recommended level for a healthy adult. And worse, if Danielle didn’t lower her cholesterol, she would likely develop type 2 diabetes within a few short months.

Danielle’s pediatrician, Cindy Gellner, MD, had a plan to help Danielle. Gellner prescribed regular exercise, a visit to a dietitian to learn healthy eating habits, and monthly visits where she could monitor Danielle’s progress. She also worked with the Martinez family to ensure they had the tools and support needed to turn Danielle’s health around.

At Westridge Health Center, one of the health centers at University of Utah Health, doctors strive to tailor healthy living programs for each patient. Gellner explains, “We review each patient’s diet, exercise, and social structure to see where each person needs improvement or support. Children over 10 years old also have blood work done to check lipids, glucose, insulin levels, thyroid and liver function.” Doctors then follow up monthly to see how patients are feeling, to review and reset goals, and to check weight and body mass index.

After counseling with Gellner, the Martinez family started exercising together several times a week. They go to the gym together or borrow exercise videos from the library and work out to them. One of Danielle’s recent goals was to mix up her exercises to prevent boredom and to create a more balanced workout routine.

Gellner stresses the importance of a healthy diet to her patients, and provides them with tips for modifying favorite recipes. She encourages her patients to share healthy recipes and is compiling a cookbook for Westridge patients. Danielle’s mother, Yessenia, changed her cooking techniques and grocery purchases to champion healthy eating habits in the Martinez home. Here are six tips the Martinez family practices to help lower Danielle’s cholesterol that you can use in your household:

  1. Add fruits and vegetables to increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Gellner recommends choosing frozen fruits and vegetables, rather than canned. “Frozen products lock in the nutrients without added sugar or salt,” she advises.
  2. Broil instead of fry to cook tasty meals without all the grease. You could also try low-fat cooking techniques like stir-frying, baking, grilling, or steaming.
  3. Instead of butter, use olive oil to reduce the saturated fat in your diet. Also be sure to use a cooking spray instead of butter when preparing pans for cooking and baking.
  4. Choose whole grains, like whole wheat bread and pasta, brown and wild rice, oats, or barley to increase the fiber in your diet and to reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates.
  5. Instead of using sugar, choose sugar substitutes to reduce calories and avoid raising blood sugar levels.
  6. Drink water or sugar free drink mixes instead of juice or soda to avoid drinking excess calories and simple carbohydrates.

Together with the support of her family and Gellner, Danielle, now age 15, has lowered her cholesterol levels and has a normal, healthy triglyceride level of 120. As a bonus, she has lost more than ten pounds. “I have more energy. I can actually run now, and be more active than I was before,” says Danielle. She credits Gellner with helping her realize she needed to change to get better. “She is really supportive, she really cares.”

Gellner is pleased with Danielle’s progress and continued efforts. She says, “Danielle has stuck with this program despite a few setbacks and I am so proud of her and her wonderful family. When she started really making great strides, we all cried happy tears together!”

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