Since Nydia Rodriguez met Wanda Santiago about a year ago, the New London resident has lost 20 pounds and gotten her Type 2 diabetes under control. That’s because Santiago, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital’s bilingual diabetes educator, has taught Rodriguez, a former nurse from Puerto Rico, about portion control, sugar substitutes and how to cut back on bread and pasta. Santiago, who was also a nurse in Puerto Rico, has even connected Rodriguez with food banks that offer fresh fruit and vegetables. “I talk to her almost every day,” Rodriguez, 64, said in Spanish, with her daughter Yolanda Mejias translating. “If I need anything, I’ll call her.”
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and the main cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations and adult blindness.
Edith Baker of Plainville faced a devastating reality that patients with advanced cancer inevitably confront. She had stopped responding to conventional treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy could no longer contain her stage 4 bladder cancer. But there was a ray of hope. Baker’s oncologist at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center referred her to a clinical trial at UConn Health involving two immunotherapy drugs: the FDA-approved Keytruda (pembrolizumab) from Merck & Co., credited with successfully treating former President Jimmy Carter’s melanoma; and Epacadostat (IDO1 inhibitor), an experimental drug from Incyte Corp.
Thousands of Connecticut residents are prediabetic but don’t know it and if they did, doctors say, early detection and lifestyle changes could prevent diabetes from developing in most people at risk. The state Department of Public Health reports that 83,000 adults in Connecticut have prediabetes, which occurs when a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as Type 2 diabetes. Nearly 9 percent of adults in the state—about 257,000 people—have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes has few early warning signs, but a blood test by a primary care doctor can detect at-risk patients. Once detected, changes in diet and exercise, sometimes with medication, can stave off the disease, doctors say.
For more than 20 years, the Citadel of Love, a Pentecostal church, has anchored one of Hartford’s most economically-challenged neighborhoods in the city’s North End. In its outreach ministries, the church offers clothing giveaways and free meals. Under the leadership of Pastor Marichal Monts, a Hartford native who grew up just down the street, a church committee met recently to discuss some of the flock’s health challenges. Many of the members come from the area, where the U.S. Census says the median household income is just $20,434. (Compare that to the state’s median household income that hovers around $70,000.)
High on the list of health challenges discussed by the leaders was Type 2 diabetes, which was once called adult-onset diabetes.
Connecticut’s diabetes rate ranks lower than the national average, but Hispanics and African-Americans are more than twice as likely to have the disease compared with their white neighbors and are at greater risk of dying from diabetes-related causes. Approximately 250,000 Connecticut adults (8 percent) have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and an estimated 83,000 state residents don’t realize they have the disease, according to 2011-13 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nationally, 29.1 million people (9.3 percent) have diabetes and 8.1 million people don’t know they have the disease, reports the CDC. Connecticut’s Hispanics (14.6 percent) and African-Americans (14.1 percent) have significantly higher rates of diabetes than whites (6.7 percent). In addition, adults with annual household incomes below $25,000 are 2.3 times more likely to have diagnosed diabetes compared with adults with household incomes over $75,000, according to the CDC.
Last month, a New York judge struck down New York City’s ban on sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. Soon after, former vice presidential candidate and reality television star Sarah Palin thrilled a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference by pausing her speech to sip from a Big Gulp. Then, freshly-minted Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz proposed a largely ceremonial “Big Gulp Amendment,” which would keep the federal government from limiting soda size, while Mississippi’s governor signed into law a bill that prohibits local governments from regulating sugary drinks. New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has taken heat for pushing for the soda size ban, though history may treat him more kindly than have conservatives. Science may, as well.