Since Louisville native and endocrinologist Kupper A. Wintergerst, M.D., arrived at Norton Children’s Hospital in 2006, he has expanded the endocrinology and diabetes program from a single physician and nurse practitioner to 10 physicians and seven nurse practitioners.
The latest recognition of the transformation of Norton Children’s Endocrinology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, into one of the best diabetes programs in the country came recently from U.S. News & World Report.
The publication’s 2020 rankings recognized Norton Children’s Hospital as one of the top 20 nationally for pediatric endocrinology and diabetes care.
“You can do a lot with three or four endocrinologists. With 10, you’re changing everything,” Dr. Wintergerst said.
“We never could have achieved these goals without the creation and growth of such an incredible team,” said Dr. Wintergerst, division chief of pediatric endocrinology and director of the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center. “To reach the point we have is only because of the organizational support and the community support that not only has been given but continues to be a tremendous part of our success.”
Funding lifts Wendy Novak Diabetes Center
In 2013, Dr. Wintergerst became director of the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center, the largest and most comprehensive pediatric diabetes center in Kentucky. Established with a $5 million pledge from the Novak Family Foundation, the center has specialists who now care for more than 1,500 children and young adults up to age 26 with diabetes.
The center is staffed by physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, patient care coordinators, diabetes educators, dieticians, behavioral health specialists, social workers, child life specialists, exercise physiologists and other specialized clinicians to improve the quality of care and patient and family experience.
“With all this amazing support, we’ve been able to stay on the cutting edge to provide the very best for the patients and families we serve,” Dr. Wintergerst said.
Helping Type 1 patients be more active
A $1 million gift in 2016 established the Christensen Family Sports Medicine Program to provide individualized monitoring and education for athletes with Type 1 diabetes. The program has a dedicated sports lab and an array of fitness testing equipment to evaluate the impact of activity on a child or young adult with diabetes.
“Often, we see individuals with diabetes develop a fear of exercise because they are worried about low blood sugars,” Dr. Wintergerst said.
In children with Type 1 diabetes, low blood sugar caused by exercise or activity can cause symptoms ranging from confusion and fatigue to seizures, or even death.
“What we’re aiming to do with this program is not only make sure exercise and activity are safe,” Dr. Wintergerst said. “We also want to make sure young athletes are able to perform at their best.”
Addressing unique endocrinology needs
According to Dr. Wintergerst, the growth in endocrinology and diabetes services at Norton Children’s has been focused on filling the gaps in care. He has overseen the development of a number of specialty endocrinology programs that help patients with unique needs. They have also looked to the future and established the state’s only pediatric endocrinology fellowship program, training the next generation of physicians for our community.
“A great example of one of our unique, rapidly growing interdisciplinary programs is our Pediatric and Adolescent Gender Education (PAGE) Program, led by Suzanne E. Kingery, M.D.,” Dr. Wintergerst said. “There is a growing population of individuals who require specific gender and transgender services, and we are now able to provide support to these children and their families.”
Pediatric endocrinologists also provide specialty care for patients with growth issues, thyroid disorders, bone and calcium disorders, adrenal disease, pituitary gland disorders, disorders of puberty, endocrine cancer and a variety of genetic health conditions. There is a weight and wellness program to help with health conditions related to weight gain.
“Over the last six or seven years, we’ve tried very hard to identify the needs of our community. The programs we’ve developed are our response to what families need and what they have been asking for,” Dr. Wintergerst said.
Dr. Wintergerst grew up not far from Saint Xavier High School and is a proud graduate. He was a child when he first met endocrinologist Michael B. Foster, M.D., with Norton Children’s Endocrinology. Dr. Foster became a family friend and mentor, eventually recruiting Dr. Wintergerst to join the Norton Children’s team.
Dr. Wintergerst attended medical school at the University of Louisville. He completed his medical residency at the University of Florida, in Pensacola, and then a pediatric endocrinology fellowship at Stanford University in California. His research there focused on diabetes technology and the artificial pancreas. His interest in diabetes technology, though, began while he was a medical resident.
“At Florida, I worked with an endocrinologist to develop a method to use an insulin pump on a premature newborn with diabetes. At that time, that had not been done,” Dr. Wintergerst said.
His first publication in endocrinology was as a lead author on a report about the case, published in the Pediatric Diabetes journal.
Dr. Wintergerst is the Wendy L. Novak endowed chair of pediatric diabetes care and clinical research, and he remains interested in research and advanced diabetes technology. His focus is primarily diabetes: improving life for patients, preventing, and ultimately curing Type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Wintergerst also remains passionate about helping children and their families with the challenges of diabetes.
“The very first child I ever took care of in residency was a child with diabetes on the medical floor,” Dr. Wintergerst said.
The girl had just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and Dr. Wintergerst was struck by how life-changing the diagnosis was.
“You walk in and everything has changed. Diabetes impacts the whole family,” Dr. Wintergerst said. “The immediate goal is to develop a relationship to instill confidence and empower a child and family to take care of their diabetes, and to show that they are not alone on this journey.”
Almost 20 years later, the goal remains the same.
Norton Children’s Endocrinology
Norton Children’s Endocrinology provides care for all types of endocrine disorders, including Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, as well as short-term and chronic disorders of the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands and gonads (testicles and ovaries). Our board-certified pediatric endocrinologists create personalized treatment plans that match the needs of each child to help them live life to the fullest.
“So much of it is not about the insulin and not about the blood sugar testing, but helping kids find a picture of the future in which they can thrive,” Dr. Wintergerst said. “For diabetes, success is taking away the fear and building confidence. Empowerment is a major part of the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center mission.”
When he’s not working, he enjoys playing volleyball, bicycling, reading and spending time with his wife, three children and his extended family and friends in Louisville.
At Norton Children’s, Dr. Wintergerst said it’s the relationship with his patients that is the best part of the job. Because he sees them multiple times a year, he knows them well.
“It’s the part of the job that I love,” he said. “We really get to know the kids and their families. We talk about their pets, whether they got their math grade up, their hobbies, their boyfriends or girlfriends, and it is almost like we are part of their family.”
According to Dr. Wintergerst, Norton Children’s Endocrinology is still growing and improving what it’s able to offer children and their families.
“We’re not finished yet, but we are excited about what the future holds,” he said.