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Food is a powerful medicine

Jannell Robertson smiles outside at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital.
Jannell Robertson is enjoying renewed energy after her treatment with the wound care team and with her participation in the Food as Health program.

Jannell Robertson finesses a path to better health at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream with Food as Health.

The map of Jannell Robertson’s life leads down an interesting path. The 56-year-old grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, spent her formative years in Preston, Lancashire, England, and eventually landed in the US, where she has resided in Queens for the past 40 years.

You might have heard Ms. Robertson’s voice on the radio in the nineties. As a broadcaster, she went by the name Finnesse, on New York City music stations WNWK and WLIB. She also instructed passengers to fasten their seatbelts during her stint as a flight attendant on Delta and Republic airlines.

Last year, however, Ms. Robertson’s journey took an unexpected detour, when she was admitted to Long Island Jewish Valley Stream. The woman who friends refer to as "Sunshine" got a bleak prognosis.

“She’s diabetic and was in a coma when she was brought in,” said Devendra Brahmbhatt, MD, vascular surgeon and director of the hospital’s Wound Care Center. “We had her in the Intensive Care Unit [ICU]. She had diabetic ketoacidosis and her left foot was very badly infected.”

Ms. Robertson’s infection was so dire that leg amputation was being considered.

“It was one of the worst cases I’ve seen,” said Dr. Brahmbhatt. “We cleaned out the infection with debridement [which removes dead necrotic tissue], chipped the bone from her heel, performed skin grafts, muscle flap and vac dressings; we healed the leg and we were able to save it.”

After Ms. Robertson was discharged from the hospital, Dr. Brahmbhatt continued to treat her as an outpatient in the Wound Care Center. There, she underwent hyperbaric oxygen treatments for two hours a day, five days a week. This helped to heal the diabetic infection in the bone of her affected leg.

quotation mark It has changed the way I look at nutrition and made me realize that food is a powerful medicine. We think we know everything about our ailments and what we should eat, but I’ve been given an education regarding my meal choices, and it’s wonderful to have a personal nutritionist explain things.
Jannell Robertson

“She had a rough journey,” said Dr. Brahmbhatt. “She was in our hospital for about five months, but I think we changed her life, both the Wound Care Center and the hospital.”

As she healed and became stronger, Ms. Robertson found out she was eligible for Northwell’s Food as Health program, which started at LIJ Valley Stream in July. Food as Health is the first hospital-based initiative in New York State to comprehensively treat food-insecure patients. One in five patients at LIJ Valley Stream is food insecure, which means they do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. The program provides patients with nutrition consultations and help with community food resources from a registered dietician from Island Harvest.

Upon discharge, patients are given a two-day supply of fresh produce and nonperishable food, and a prescription for two food refills. If patients cannot get the food they need on their own, Long Island Cares, Inc., will deliver emergency food supplies to their homes, and God’s Love We Deliver will bring medically tailored meals to patients who cannot cook for themselves.

“This program means so much to me because it isn’t just about giving food,” said Ms. Robertson. “It has changed the way I look at nutrition and made me realize that food is a powerful medicine. We think we know everything about our ailments and what we should eat, but I’ve been given an education regarding my meal choices, and it’s wonderful to have a personal nutritionist explain things.”

LIJ Valley Stream is the first Northwell hospital to offer eligible patients the Food as Health program. Other hospitals in the system will follow in 2019.

“Food as Health, coupled with the wound care team and Dr. Brahmbhatt...oh, I cannot tell you what they have all meant to me. My physical and spiritual energy are renewed,” said Ms. Robertson.