USHFP Member Profile Series: Health Coach Was My ‘Angel’

Mary Jones (left) with her health coach Courtney Nelson

In 2018, Johns Hopkins US Family Health Plan member Mary Jones received frightening counsel from her doctor: If she didn’t lose weight, she would die.  Mary, a diabetes patient, had been trying unsuccessfully to lose weight on her own for years. A few days after receiving this scary news, Jones received a call from Courtney Nelson, a Johns Hopkins US Family Health Plan health coach.  Jones saw Nelson’s call as the answer to her prayers. “She was an angel that God sent to help me out,” said Jones, who is now much healthier at nearly 50 pounds lighter than when she received that first phone call.

Jones identified her faith and her connection to family as strong motivators for her health journey, though she was also aware of her weaknesses—a tendency to overeat when stressed and an extreme fondness for sweets.  Nelson incorporated this information into her personalized plan for Jones. During their year of monthly phone calls, Nelson channeled Jones’ motivation into setting small, achievable goals.  The two worked together, as would a team on a journey.

“We don’t tell people what to do,” Nelson said.  “We’re not here to judge.  It’s more about empowering you to figure out why these changes are important in your life and making you feel supported, motivated and energized.”

Jones recalled one breakthrough along that journey when she saw a large, tempting cupcake on a friend’s table. “The cupcake was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I wanted that cupcake!” she said.

But Jones happened to be on the phone with Nelson at the time, who talked her out of eating the cupcake.  Since then, Jones has cut almost all sugar out of her diet, and after joining her church for its annual January fast from meat and sweets, she is now completely vegetarian. Nelson has supported this transition by sharing recipes with meat substitutes, including tofu, which Jones has come to love.

Nelson’s coaching and gentle encouragement has led to incredible results.  Jones reduced her weight from 230 pounds to 172 within a year, cut in half the amount of diabetes medication she was having to take and was able to stop taking medication for high blood pressure altogether.  And her energy levels have skyrocketed.

Jones has continued to eat well, increase her exercise and practice the healthy habits she learned with Courtney Nelson.  Her goal is to weigh 160 and be medication-free.

“Courtney was my sweetheart,” Jones said. “She helped me, and the program really works.  So, if it can work for me, it can work for anybody.”

The US Family Health Plan’s preventive health care initiatives– disease and complex care management programs and a patient-centered medical home concept that includes in-home patient monitoring – keep members active in lifestyle programs and invested in their health and wellness.  This model of care falls closely in line with recent requests by Congress to reform the Military Health System and contributes to keeping US Family Health Plan members satisfied with their health care, out of the hospital and experiencing a high-quality of life.