By Tom Griscom
Publisher and Executive Editor
A recent series by health writer Emily Berry in the Chattanooga Times Free Press focused on a silent killer that is preventable.
Diabetes, a disease the affects more than 16 million Americans and even more who are not yet diagnosed, caught the attention of former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist in the closing months of his administration and recently became a focus for Gov. Phil Bredesen. After almost four years of efforts to revamp Tennessee’s health care programs, Gov. Bredesen once more pushed diabetes to the forefront.
The most telling fact about diabetes is the ability to manage the disease. There are lifestyle changes required, but a more rigorous exercise routine and a modified diet do bring results.
For those of us in the media business, a timely topic is measured by reader response. The four-day diabetes series struck a responsive chord. Comments ranged from those who live with the disease, to doctors who enter the field driven by personal experience, to those who support research opportunities hoping for a cure.
As Ms. Berry shared: “It is interesting that so many endocrinologists are apparently driven by their own experience with diabetes.”
One reader provided contact information for a physician in Cleveland who holds diabetic education classes and “goes above and beyond to help people live with the condition.” The message stated that not only is the care for patients but it is a “continued reinforcement for himself to properly manage his own diabetic condition.”
On a similar track, another reader shared the experiences of a medical student who is a graduate of Girls Preparatory School. Having lived with diabetes since entering her early teens, the woman’s career focus is on endocrinology, to learn about, live with and treat a disease that affected her life.
A registered nurse expressed her concern about diminishing diabetes education, citing the failure of Medicare and other major insurance providers to cover the benefit unless the program is recognized by the American Diabetes Association or Indian Health Services. She said most classes are eight to 10 hours, but many diabetics are unable to take time off work to attend the sessions.
“Diabetes is a progressive disease process that requires frequent review of the necessary areas of care such as nutrition, exercise, medications, stress and the use of new treatment tools,” she stated.
Then there was the Type 1 diabetic who has lived with the disease for 53 years, noting that he was “one of the youngest babies to survive a diabetic coma at the local Children’s Hospital in 1953.” He stated his mother was told he would be lucky to survive until age 18, but 75,000 insulin injections later, he has had few complications.
Three years ago he received the Half Century award from the Joslin Diabetes Foundation in Boston and will be back at Joslin during the summer along with other 50-year survivors to study why they have not been adversely affected by the disease.
He shared his interest in stem cell research as a possible means to cure Type I diabetes. If you are interested, enter StemCellInformation into your Web browser’s address line.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., recently announced his intention of bringing legislation on stem cells to the United States Senate floor for consideration.
There is at least one 53-year diabetes survivor who will be following the debate.
To reach Tom Griscom, call (423) 757-6472 or e-mail tgriscom@timesfreepress .com.