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Diabetes epidemic needs to be understood

By BY JOHN W. GRIFFIN JR.
Nov. 16, 2012 at 5:16 a.m.

John Griffin Jr.

During the two or three minutes you read this, another 12 Americans will have diabetes. The statistics are staggering: 26 million American children and adults, two million in Texas and more than 11,000 in Victoria County alone. We are everywhere: in elementary schools, grocery stores, soccer fields and doctor's offices. There are more of us than there are cancer patients, and our number is growing. We are part of an epidemic.

Yet one in three of those 11,000 of us don't know we have diabetes. These undiagnosed Victoria residents feel fine, but as they live with high blood sugar levels, their vessels and heart are being destroyed. This tragedy plays out every day.

Why should we care about this? First, because we are talking about families. Small children being told at the age of 3, "You have diabetes." Or small children asking, "What happened to Grandpa's foot?" Untreated or poorly managed diabetes hurts children and ends the lives of their loved ones. Beware, the following numbers are shocking. Each and every day, 50 people go blind because of diabetes, 120 will have kidney failure and dialysis, and 240 people will have an amputation.

Diabetes doesn't just have a human cost. It costs all of us real dollars - almost $300 billion. That's a lot of money. Here in Texas alone, diabetes costs us almost $20 billion. One in 10 health care dollars goes to diabetes care. And as the number of children and adults with diabetes keeps rising, those costs will bankrupt us, but it doesn't have to happen.

The American Diabetes Association's mission is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. Millions of Americans, including Tom Schmidt from here in Victoria, have prevented diabetes by being proactive with diet, exercise and modern medicine. Millions more who actually have diabetes, live the same full lives as Tom does by managing blood sugar levels and being good with a glucose monitor that takes only five seconds to display the blood glucose level.

This morning, hundreds of us will be at Pine Street Park, at the Corner of Pine and East Streets, in Victoria's second annual Stop Diabetes Day. It's free, it's informative and it's fun. We are a diverse community, with soccer players, swimmers, police officers, teachers, kindergarten students and grandparents.

Our first goal is to bring awareness to diabetes. Second, we want to celebrate the tools we have to fight diabetes. We will have free "ask the expert" sessions with Victoria's own endocrinologist Fred Niegos, podiatrists, nurses, diabetes educators, optometrists and nutritionists. There will be free blood glucose checks and free meters for those who need them, free blood pressure checks, foot examinations and more.

Most of us like to eat and drink, and those of us with diabetes are no different. H-E-B Cooking Connection and Robert's Eatery will be cooking for us, proving that food that is good for us can really taste great.

Face painting and other children's activities will be taking place, while adults can learn about fitness that is fun. The Victoria community is one with a big heart, and we celebrate that in Pine Street Park and Community Center.

My family is living proof that diabetes is a life adventure, not a death sentence. My sister Jill Griffin Stover, her daughter Clare, and my nephew Riley Bunnell are my blood family, but they are also part of the 26 million kids and adults with diabetes and the 80 million more who have pre-diabetes.

With awareness, good management and good health providers such as those we have right here in the Victoria area, we can live full, productive lives. Consider this: In years past, those of us living with diabetes were told our life expectancy was years less than our friends who didn't have diabetes. Now, life expectancy for those with diabetes is close to that of the rest of the population. That means some of us with diabetes who manage it well will exceed our life expectancy and live longer, happier lives than our peers. That is something that is hopeful and within our power if we join together and do it. Let's start with a great day at Pine Street Park and Community Center, where we can all be united to stop diabetes!

John Griffin Jr. is a Victoria attorney, the immediate past chair of the board of the American Diabetes Association and a member of the Texas Diabetes Council. Readers may contact him with questions or comments at jwg@adamember.org.

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