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Diabetes means adjustments, not limits

By Greg Gelpi

At first glance, it would appear that LyCynthia Baskin is like most others in this day of instant communication with a pager on her side and a flip cell phone.

But, what appears to be communications devices are actually medical devices to monitor and control her blood sugar level.

Just as many have become attached to their communications devices, Baskin, who has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes for 37 years, carries around her glucometer and insulin pump.

Not maintaining her blood sugar through the years led to complications, including loss of vision for almost two years and the loss of feeling in her hands and feet. Baskin, though, hopes that others can gain from her experiences during this, American Diabetes Month.

Baskin has also suffered six comas and has kidney disease, thyroid disease, anemia and asthma as a result of not controlling her diabetes.

"I just want people to know that it doesn't have to be that way," Baskin said. "It doesn't have to get to this point."

It's important for people to take the initiative to get diagnosed and to take responsibility, she said.

"They've got to be the ones to take control of it," Baskin said. "It's not the doctors. It's not mommy and daddy."

Those with diabetes must learn to live with the disease around the clock, she said.

"It's a lifestyle change, a complete lifestyle change," Baskin said. "Once you make the adjustments, it's just like brushing your teeth."

Baskin takes 14 different types of medicine daily, including insulin.

In addition to medicine and monitoring and maintaining her blood sugar level, her adjustments include changes in her diet and increased exercise.

"I think the biggest misconception is that you're limited," Baskin said. "There are no limitations. You may have to make adjustments, but there are no limitations."

Waking up in the morning, the first thing Baskin does is check her blood sugar level. Pricking her finger, she tests her blood with a glucometer six to eight times daily. She puts her pricked finger in contact with a test strip in the glucometer, which quickly determines her blood sugar level.

Diabetes weighs on her physically, while also hitting her financially. For medicine alone, she spent more than $10,000 last year.

There is no cure for diabetes, and there may not be a cure for some time, especially for Type 1 diabetes, said Dr. Guillermo Umpierrez, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University and a researcher for the American Diabetes Association.

Through diet and exercise, though, people can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, Umpierrez said.

"Lifestyle intervention is the best way to prevent diabetes," he said.

Umpierrez is studying what causes cells that create insulin to "fail," leading to diabetes. By isolating the cause, researches can develop ways to prevent the onset of diabetes.

New medicines and new forms of insulin will be hitting the market in the coming years, he said. Already, an insulin inhaler is being tested in Europe.

The American Diabetes Association has invested more than $300 million in research. Umpierrez will speak about this and other cutting-edge diabetes research at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 29 for Diabetes Expo Atlanta.

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 18.2 million Americans or 6.3 percent of the population have diabetes.

In Clayton County alone, 8,920 people have diabetes, according to the 2003 Georgia Report.

There were 136 deaths attributed to diabetes in the county in 2003. There were also 298 hospitalizations, and the cost associated with diabetes was more than $3.7 million.

Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the country and contributed to 213,062 deaths in 2000. The death toll is believed to be higher because diabetes tends to be under reported, according to the American Diabetes Association.

"While an estimated 13 million have been diagnosed, unfortunately, 5.2 million people are not aware that they have the disease," according to the association. "Each day approximately 2,740 people are diagnosed with diabetes. About 1.3 million people will be diagnosed this year."

Life-threatening complications associated with diabetes include: heart disease and stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve disease and amputations.

There are several types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, which accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of all cases, is referred to as juvenile-onset diabetes, although it can strike at any age.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 percent to 95 percent of all diabetes cases and is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity and race and ethnicity.

About 5 to 10 percent of cases are gestational diabetes, which is diagnosed in some women during pregnancy.