World marks first Diabetes Day

On Wednesday, Sheba Medical Center began offering activities for kids with Type 1 diabetes.

Azrieli lit 224.88 (photo credit: Pini Siluk)
Azrieli lit 224.88
(photo credit: Pini Siluk)
Tel Aviv's Azrieli Towers were ringed with blue light on Tuesday evening, joining 119 other sites around the globe to mark the first-ever United Nations World Diabetes Day, which is being held on Wednesday. Diabetes affects approximately 246 million people worldwide, including 21 million children. World Diabetes Day is designed to raise awareness of the disease and to mobilize governments, health organizations and other groups to help in prevention, early diagnosis and treatment. Every 10 seconds, someone dies of a diabetes-related illness. If nothing is done, there will be 100 million more diabetics by 2025. There are 400,000 Israelis diagnosed with diabetes, most of them with Type 2, which is largely due to obesity, inadequate physical activity and poor diet. The rest have Type 1, an autoimmune disease that usually begins during childhood. An additional 200,000 Israelis have Type 2 but have not yet been diagnosed because the symptoms are not apparent, while 200,000 more suffer from pre-diabetes, a metabolic syndrome that becomes diabetes if action is not quickly taken. Thus, one in seven Israelis has diabetes or pre-diabetes. Lifestyle changes can prevent people from developing Type 2 diabetes. Several Israeli hospitals owned by health funds and other buildings will also be illuminated in blue light, in a project funded by Novo Nordisk, the Denmark-based company that manufactures and develops insulin and other products for diabetics. Uncontrolled diabetes can result in dangerous and potentially fatal complications, including blindness, kidney failure, poor blood circulation to the limbs resulting in the need for amputation, heart disease and stroke. Improved medications and other treatments, however, have made it easier for patients to control their blood sugar and avoid complications. Israel Diabetes Association president Dr. Julio Weinstein said medical researchers know more than ever before about how to cope with the diabetes epidemic and to minimize suffering. Every year, some 250 Israeli children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which would be fatal without injections of insulin several times a day or the use of insulin pumps worn on the body. Starting Wednesday, experiential activities for children with Type 1 diabetic will be offered weekly at Sheba Medical Center's Safra Children's Hospital, including drama therapy using music, dance, role playing, improvisations, texts, masks and puppets. In addition, a new center for diabetes research and treatment is opening at Laniado Medical Center in Netanya. The "one-stop" center offers psychological and physical therapy to children, adults and pregnant women from around the country. The interdisciplinary team includes endocrinologists, nephrologists, orthopedics, ophthalmologists, vascular surgeons, psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists. "As diabetes affects all the body's organs, it is vital to have a treatment plan suited personally to the patient and administered by a team," said Dr. Mark Niven, head of the diabetes center. For some, a diagnosis of diabetes has meant a traumatic life change. Gerda, a 66-year-old woman who was diagnosed with Type 2 as a young adult, recalls that she was a bank clerk and interpreter for the hearing disabled, "a skill I acquired at home, as both my parents were deaf. "I was responsible for them even as a small girl. I served as their ambassador. I made up for my lost childhood by eating. Suddenly at 30, I was very tired and thirsty," said Gerda, who is so obese that she has difficulty moving even with a metal crutch. "After three weeks in the hospital, I was told that I had 'the old man's disease‚' even though I was not a man and I wasn't old. I tried to lose weight, but I was unsuccessful. "Although I loved to travel and dance, by 1984 I developed complications. I suffered from neuropathy [a disease of the peripheral nerve or nerves] and had accidents. I went barefoot at home one day and a glass broke; I stepped on it, but I wasn't aware that my foot was cut, and it didn't heal." Gerda developed sores, and eventually, some of her toes were surgically removed. "My whole world had broken down," she said. "I got no psychological help. Today, I can't lose weight because I can't exercise." Living alone on a pension, Gerda said she was still angry for "sacrificing her childhood" for her parents, overeating to obesity and then developing diabetes. "I paid a high price, but I can't blame them. It's my problem," she said. But Alex, 20, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of three, seems unwilling to forgo any of life's pleasures and challenges. His mother went with him on school outings to make sure he got his insulin, and later, he participated in sailing events. "I'm proud to treat my diabetes by myself," said Alex, a tall and thin, but muscular, young man. "I don't have many worries," he said. "The fear of a hypoglycemia episode [in which blood sugar drops dangerously] is always at the back of my mind, but I can usually feel the early symptoms, and I take care of it. I am very determined. I learned not to give up, and I take good care of myself." Alex said the testing equipment available now was very convenient. Years ago, he said, diabetics had to boil a urine sample with a tablet to watch the color change and see how high the sugar was. Today, there are glucometers and no guesswork, and insulin comes in more varied and user-friendly forms.