ORMOND BEACH — When Lowell Lohman met a few years ago with medical researchers working to find a cure for diabetes, he offered praise for their dedication, but also a suggestion:
“I told them, ‘While you’re searching for it, please make the day-to-day struggle of being a diabetic easier,’” said Lohman, a successful entrepreneur who has been a Type 1 diabetic for 55 years.
Now, Lohman and his wife, Nancy, are making a $4 million donation to support that goal by establishing Lohman Diabetes Center of Excellence at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach. It is conceived as a one-stop resource center for diabetes patients seeking access to world-class endocrinologists, on-site lab work, educational and lifestyle coaching, the Lohmans said.
“That’s our hope, that it’s a navigation center, a collaborative team approach to diabetes care,” said Nancy Lohman, who joined her husband to present an initial $1 million check to open the center to Halifax Health officials on Thursday at the couple’s Ormond Beach home.
At the gathering, which included roughly a dozen representatives of Halifax Health and the Halifax Health-Foundation, the couple’s generosity was heralded by Joe Petrock, the hospital foundation’s executive director.
“As we walk through life, we are indeed fortunate to meet those individuals who through their thoughts, actions and good deeds make our community a better place,” Petrock said. “Lowell and Nancy, you are two of those individuals. Your gift will definitely improve the quality of life for the thousands in our community who live with diabetes.”
The new diabetes center will be based on the fifth floor of Halifax Health’s Professional Building at 311 Clyde Morris Blvd., which is now being renamed the Lohman Building.
The hospital also has hired the first of two endocrinologists to work at the center, Dr. Poonam Kalidas Kapadia, a specialist in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism previously based at UF Health in Jacksonville.
Kapadia is slated to start on Nov. 1 in temporary quarters, said John Guthrie, Halifax Health vice president of communications. The new center is scheduled to open by the end of the second quarter of next year, after construction and remodeling is complete, he said.
“Lowell and Nancy really brought it to our attention that we really needed more capacity for endocrinology in our area,” Guthrie said. “What the Lohmans’ gift is going to help us do is create a diabetes center of excellence here, so we can start to educate people more about how to take care of themselves.”
The Lohmans’ initial $1 million donation will be followed by an investment of an additional $3 million distributed in $500,000 annual installments over the next six years, the couple said.
“We want it to grow and continue and that’s why we’re spreading our gift out over time,” Nancy Lohman said. “We want to keep it sustainable and help in that effort.
“We want the center of excellence to be a resource for diabetics in our community for their entire lives, something that helps people navigate education, resources and medical attention,” she said. “It is Lowell’s legacy to help others to lead a better, limitless life with diabetes. It makes us very happy.”
The impact of the new center will be “monumental,” said Jeff Feasel, president and CEO of Halifax Health, also among those offering remarks on Thursday at the Lohmans’ home.
“It will solidify their legacy in our community for decades,” Feasel said. “It’s our responsibility to execute on the plan; to communicate with our community, educate our community and provide needed services for this very important community.”
‘A good partnership’
The new diabetes center is the latest in a series of collaborations in awareness and care that involves the Lohmans, Halifax Health, the Volusia-Flagler Family YMCA and the Volusia County division of the non-profit Help A Diabetic Child Foundation.
The Lohmans became aware of the latter organization in September 2018, when Lowell Lohman read a short article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal about a fundraising event hosted by the foundation. Its work impressed him enough to publicly reveal that he had Type 1 diabetes, a condition he had kept secret for most of his life.
The Lohman family was the largest private owner of funeral homes and cemeteries in Florida. Lohman has owned more than 60 businesses; the majority has been with family. As an entrepreneur, Lohman’s story and strategies for building multimillion-dollar family businesses are detailed in his recent book “The Lohman Way.”
Lowell Lohman, 75 is a member of the CEO Business Alliance and serves on the board of the Help A Diabetic Child Foundation. Together with his wife Nancy, Lohman has donated more than $6 million to local charities in the Daytona area.
In addition to his long list of business successes, Lohman also enjoyed athletics as both a teen and an adult. He was his high school’s quarterback, played baseball in high school and college, and won a national championship in flag football as an adult.
He kept the fact that he has diabetes private because he didn’t want anyone to “feel sorry” for him, he said.
In 2019, the couple helped organize the inaugural Lohman Florida Diabetes & Wellness Conference, a gathering of the region’s leading experts on diabetes prevention and wellness at the Port Orange Family YMCA.
Founded by the Help A Diabetic Child Foundation, that event also was presented in partnership with the Volusia Flagler YMCAs and Halifax Health. It is expected to become an annual event, although COVID-19 has resulted in the cancellation of this year’s event.
“They have been a substantial support to us,” said Tami Balavage, co-founder of the Naples-based Help A Diabetic Child with her husband, Joe. “The Lohmans have gone above and beyond in helping the less fortunate, those disadvantaged. People have been traveling an hour and a half, two hours away to see their endocrinologists. Having that resource there will be such an advantage for people living in the community. Without Lowell and Nancy pulling us all together, this would not be happening.”
The collaboration also has yielded a virtual 12-week one-hour diabetes prevention series, as well as the Lowell and Nancy Lohman Diabetes Education & Prevention Network and regular diabetes education classes an area YMCA Healthy Living Centers.
“It has been a good partnership,” said Chris Seilkop, CEO of Volusia-Flagler Family YMCA. “Going down this path, we’ve found there isn’t a lot of tracking of how many diabetic kids there are in the area and what’s the need.
“For us, some of the work is uncovering those answers, along with providing support for parents who have kids that are diabetic. There’s a lot of education that has to go on. A lot of the feedback is from parents who thank us because they don’t know these resources are out there. It all stems directly from Lowell and Nancy providing the funding for us to do it.”
‘An incredible need’
Dr. Dr. Sheila Gupta, an Ormond Beach endocrinologist familiar with the Lohmans’ advocacy, said she was “very excited” to hear the news of the new diabetes center. The need for diabetes care is serious in Volusia County, she said.
“I came to town in 2007 and started my private practice in 2009,” Gupta said. “Literally from the day I opened my office, there was an overwhelming flood of requests from patients with diabetes who were not getting specific diabetic care. Since then the demand has never let up.
“There’s an incredible need for more endocrinologists and more comprehensive care in our town,” she said. “When Nancy and Lowell decided to take up diabetes as one of their causes I was incredibly thankful, because our need is great.”
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition affecting 34.2 million people in the United States, according to 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the prevalence of diabetes has been increasing in the United States, the CDC reports.
In the 1950s, diabetes affected less than 1 in 100 people. In 2020, diabetes affects 1 in 10 people, and by 2060, it is projected to affect 1 in 6 people. The sharp rise over the next 40 years is due to factors that include an increase in newly diagnosed Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes cases among young people, an aging population, rising rates of obesity and increases in minority groups that are high risk for Type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC.
Diabetes is the number one cause of blindness in patients under the age of 75, the number one cause of kidney failure, and the leading cause of non-traumatic foot amputations. All of these conditions are preventable with diabetes management.
Volusia County has a higher than average prevalence of diabetes. In Volusia County, 14.2% of adults have diabetes, a ratio of 1 in 7. That compares with 11.8% of the population statewide and 10.5% of the United States population, according to a 2019 Volusia County Community Health Needs Assessment.
The diabetes death rate is increasing in Volusia County, and the rate of preventable hospitalizations from diabetes of adults under the age of 65 also is on the rise, according to the same assessment.
In Flagler County, 13.6% of adults have diabetes, according to the Florida Department of Health, also higher than state and national figures.
“We have a genuine need for more comprehensive and widely available diabetes care,” Gupta said.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Lohmans’ $4 million donation to fund diabetes center at Daytona’s Halifax Medical Center