2006-04-07 / Columnists

With Beverly Baxter

PHC Addresses Diabetes Epidemic

BEVERLY BAXTERBEVERLY BAXTER Okay, so you take pride in being a good parent. You are devoted to your kids; shuttling them to school, giving them money for hot school lunches, treating them to the latest computers, Play Stations, Game Boy and X Box games; and stopping off at the nearest Burger King along the way where you indulge them with burgers, fries, and refills of soda. You are a good parent. You love your kids. However, it may never occur to you that this love may be killing them softly.

According to national statistics, Diabetes is on the rise among both children and adults. Here within the Rockaway zip code, it has become an epidemic of alarming proportions. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Diabetics live in the Rockaways; yet they may not know they have the disease. Often the symptoms are overlooked and do not present themselves until one is rushed to the emergency room with a major health event like a stroke or heart attack.

Peninsula Hospital Center has risen to the occasion of this growing epidemic with its state-of-the-art Diabetes Treatment Center. Constructed nearly three and a half years ago, the center is staffed with both adult and pediatric endocrinologists to treat patients in its outpatient program. The center has been actively trying to promote awareness, particularly among the uninsured, to attract those who may be at high risk to the services of the hospital.

Diabetes is the result of damage to the pancreas gland that supplies insulin to the blood. In Type 1 Diabetes, autoimmune factors affect the pancreas forcing it to stop producing insulin. The result is elevated sugar levels in the blood. The treatment of the Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetic differs in how the excess sugar is removed from the blood.The Type 1 Diabetic is insulin (protein)-dependent and must be treated with shots. Type 1 is usually genetic and is, without proper diagnosis, life-threatening. The Type 1 diabetic is usually small and has lost a considerable amount of weight. Perhaps you remember a grandmother or grandfather who may have been blind or bound to a wheelchair. If you don't know the cause, then you should ask if he or she were diabetic because you may be at risk for the disease.

The Type 2 Diabetes epidemic parallels the current escalating obesity epidemic and is often related to socio-economic factors. Dr. Constance Stewart, Pediatric Endocrinologist at Peninsula Hospital Center's Juvenile Diabetes Center, cites a typical example of an 11-year-old who weighs 207 lbs. The child comes from a lower socio-economic status and consumes a diet of mostly processed and less expensive foods. The result is obesity and diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes is treated by new oral medications and proper nutrition. Risk factors for the disease are found in African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, family history and pregnant women. Symptoms include frequent thirst, frequent urination, high sugar levels in the blood, blurry vision and numbness or tingling in the feet.If you have any of these symptoms, you should go directly to Peninsula Hospital Center to be screened for the disease.

According to Dr. Perry Herson, who treats adults at the Diabetes Treatment Center and who was featured in an interview on ESPN during the Super-Bowl half-time to combat the onslaught of negative messages from the media, "We live in a culture of treatment, not prevention. The message from the media, and throughout our popular culture, is to eat hamburgers, drink beer, and not exercise. In fact, in many schools Gym is not even offered and the vendors who contract with the schools are providing non-nutritious meals. Let's face it, the result is that we have, as a society, become fat and lazy. Designers are even cutting fabrics larger for both adults and children to mask the fact that we are growing larger and children's car-seat manufacturers, to meet this "growing" need, are forced to design car-seats for heavier children. Diabetes is clearly an epidemic that is growing at an alarming rate.

While many hospitals have been forced to close their treatment centers due to budget constraints, Peninsula Hospital Center, through endowments made by generous benefactors, has been growing its Diabetes Treatment Center to meet the current, as well as anticipated need due to the current building boom, which is expected to swell our population by 20,000 more residents. Peninsula Hospital Center is promoting awareness through its series of free to the public screening days and Health Fairs. There is also discussion of the hospital hosting an event where local school nurses can come and talk with the staff about the facilities at the Diabetes Treatment Center. As Dr. Herson states, "we are here and we are available to offer proper nutrition counseling, insulin adjustment and medications to treat both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. We offer a multi-disciplinary center to treat ancillary aspects of the disease such as Podiatry, Ophthalmology, Vascular surgery and Cardiology." Dr. Stewart states that awareness and getting the message out is key. She urges those who have the disease or who may be at risk for the disease to "come and utilize the facilities and good staff and feel confident in the staff. There is no need to travel off the peninsula for Diabetes treatment. We have it right here.... and close to home."

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