One thing about Naples: when a problem is identified, concerned citizens will step up to do something about it.
For the latest example, consider diabetes, and the new Diabetes Education Center taking shape at the Greater Naples YMCA. Diabetes is a huge and growing health problem in this country, yet doesn’t receive nearly the publicity or research funds that go to fight higher-profile, but less threatening medical conditions, said David Marrero.
Dr. Marrero is a Ph.D. psychologist who is president of the American Diabetes Association, and was in town to support the new center, as well as the conference the Y and a variety of other local health-related organizations are holding November 15 to spread awareness of diabetes.
“More people die of diabetes than breast cancer and AIDS combined,” said Marrero, who is himself an insulin-dependent type 1 diabetic. “We’re not a sexy disease — people don’t flame out, they rust out.”
More than 29 million Americans, 9.3 percent of the population, had diabetes in 2012, including over 8 million undiagnosed cases, according to the ADA, and the disease caused 73,000 lower limb amputations, as well as an epidemic of kidney failure and vision issues. The numbers are expected to continue skyrocketing, with up to 50 percent of the population projected to contract diabetes, said Marrero.
Helping those with undiagnosed cases of diabetes, pre-diabetes or those whose physical condition or lifestyle put them at risk for the disease is a key reason for putting the diabetes center at the YMCA, said Greater Naples YMCA board president Guy Blanchette.
“People come here, they have exercise in mind. Five years ago, you couldn’t find help. This won’t be hidden inside a hospital.” Blanchette said.
The center, right off the front desk and lobby at the YMCA headquarters on Pine Ridge Road, will offer educational resources, diabetes screening and private consultations with Amy Chappel, a board certified pediatric neurologist and lifestyle physician. The center is called the Weny Charitable Trust Diabetes Education Center, after the principal sponsor.
One reason the prevalence of diabetes has mushroomed in our society is, ironically, advances in coping with the disease, said Marrero.
“It used to be, diabetes would kill you rather quickly. With no insulin, I’m dead in four days. But in 1923, insulin came out. Now, with our treatment options, you can be 20, 40 or 60 years old with diabetes,” so diabetics pass their genes on to their children, increasing the at-risk population.
And the prevalence of children with diabetes is a growing part of the problem. One of the partners in the coalition sponsoring the YMCA diabetes center is the Naples-based Help a Diabetic Child Foundation, and another is the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. Tami and Joe Balavage, founders of Help a Diabetic Child, were moved to begin their effort fighting the disease when their son was diagnosed with diabetes at age 8.
“Our son could have lost his leg,” said Tami. “It’s a scary thing. With this center, we’re developing a platform that’s replicable across the country.” Roger Ludwig, trustee of the Weny Charitable Trust, also has a son who has diabetes, diagnosed at age 16.
“Kids consider themselves lepers with this disease. Our son didn’t want to let anyone know, and dropped a lot of school activities. He’s 21 now, and wears an insulin pump. We want to make people not so uncomfortable” sharing their information, said Ludwig.
Education is key, said Marrero. “If you’re diagnosed with this, you have to have a master’s degree overnight. Now we have a place to send people for good information.”
To further help spread information about the risk factors, warning signs and treatment options for adult and juvenile diabetes, the Greater Naples YMCA is hosting the inaugural Naples Diabetes Conference from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15 at Y headquarters. The event will include a light brunch, and multiple sessions on several diabetes-focused topics led by leaders in the fields of diabetes research, prevention and treatment.
Admission costs $10, and all proceeds will benefit the Help a Diabetic Child Foundation. All attendees will be registered to win a free YMCA membership.
To register, or for more information on the conference, visit www.DiabetesConference.eventbrite.com or call the Naples YMCA at 239-597-3148.