Novo Nordisk and actor James Avery have teamed up to discuss the importance of diabetes screening and maintaining good control.

By: John Parkinson, Clinical Content Coordinator, DiabetesCare.net

Part of getting an audience to become interested in a play, movie, or television drama is to set the stage to create a sense of suspense ―this often means making a situation dire. Once the scene is set, the protagonist enters and saves everyone from the ensuing danger.

What may be truly scary is the real life drama that is unfolding in the United States today. In January, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that an estimated 25.8 million Americans are “affected” by diabetes. Of these numbers, only 18.8 million are diagnosed. That means there are upwards of seven million people who are undiagnosed, walking around with diabetes, but are unaware they have the disease. And being unaware of their diabetes does not mean these seven million people are immune to the complications or daily issues associated by the disease.

Making people aware of the disease is the first, important step needed to deal with this massive health issue today. This is where a well-known public person, a spokesperson who can identify or relate to a disease can lend a hand to the situation.

Enter in stage left, James Avery (pictured), actor and a person who has had type 2 diabetes for 15 years.

Avery has had a long, successful career in television and film, and many people may recognize him for his role as Uncle Phil in the successful TV show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His recognition as an actor with the disease prompted his collaboration with The Entertainment Industries Council, a non-profit organization that provides information, awareness and understanding of major health and social issues, and Novo Nordisk, a large, international healthcare company dedicated to developing diabetes pharmaceutical therapies, to work together to get the word out for people to get tested, but also for those people who are diagnosed already to stay in good control and not to ignore their diabetes.

“We believe that diabetes is one of the most compelling health issues of our time,” explains Anthony Deluzio, MD, regional medical director, Novo Nordisk. “Unfortunately, many myths and misconceptions about diabetes persist in our community and one of our goals as a company is to join others, like James, to help reduce the stigma associated with diabetes and empower those affected by the disease to lead full and productive lives.”

DiabetesCare.net recently sat down with Mr. Avery and he discussed how he decided to open up about his diabetes publicly, some of the disease challenges he has faced, and his aspirations for this newer role of diabetes advocate:

DiabeteCare.net: Can you take us through how you were first diagnosed with diabetes?

Avery: I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about 15 years ago. My wife and I were on a road trip, driving cross country. During that trip, I kept noticing that after I ate, I would get tremendously sleepy. It was just hard to keep my eyes open. The first night we got home, I got up every 10 minutes to go to the bathroom and I was dying of thirst. At one point, I couldn’t get out of bed. So you make one of those bargains where you say, ‘If you just let me get up now, I’ll do what you need me to do. Whoever is up there, whoever is listening, please hear this.’ The next day I went to the doctor, who told me that my blood sugar was 2,500, and that I needed to get to the hospital right away. My doctor told me it was amazing that I wasn’t in a coma. And that shocked and scared me, because I had no idea.

DiabetesCare.net: What lifestyle strategies have you found to be helpful in managing your diabetes?

Avery: Taking my medicine and accepting the fact that I have diabetes, because for a while I was trying to ignore it. When you ignore it, it gets worse. I have a great wife, who reminds me not to ignore it and encourages me to take control of my health. I always joke that if it wasn’t for women, most men would be dead on the street.

DiabetesCare.net: Many people with diabetes do not like to be defined or characterized as being diabetic, how do you talk to people about your diabetes who ask you about it?

Avery: Like many people, having an illness made me angry, because I’ve been able to take care of myself on my own for my whole life, and now all of a sudden, I have to consider this illness and manage it every day. Now that I’ve accepted the reality of living with diabetes, I’ve found myself talking about it to anyone who may be at risk. This is especially true in the African American community. I can’t help it, if I see someone in danger. There are so many things that we have to live for and accomplish as individuals. I think it’s foolish to have a disease cut that down when there can be something to stop it.

DiabetesCare.net: As some people with diabetes choose to keep their privacy about the disease and minimize their discussions about it, you chose a different path and decided to openly discuss diabetes. Why the decision to collaborate with the Entertainment Industries Council and Novo Nordisk to begin this public advocacy role?

Avery: I’m an actor, so it was a difficult decision, because if you are ill, they don’t hire you and that affects your career. But I think it’s important to spread the message to people living with, or at risk of diabetes and find a way to help these people. After all, I didn’t know I could have diabetes or that I could get it and I am sure many more out there don’t know they are at risk either. The way I see it, what’s the point in having a disease and trying to keep it hidden, if my experiences can help someone else?

DiabetesCare.net: What are your goals for participating in the public service announcement (PSA) and being a spokesman in the fight against diabetes?

Avery: I hope that I can wake some people up. People can get help that didn’t know they needed help. I hope that I can do some good. You want to have some kind of influence on the world. I just want to have a little piece of that. I want people to know that they can take care of themselves and watch what they eat – even if it is difficult at times.

DiabetesCare.net: What do you think are the important attributes an actor offers in serving as a spokesperson and advocating for diabetes screening and glucose control?

Avery: You can find a way to deal with your illness and be an ambassador to help those around you. It gives you great satisfaction to know that you’re helping people.

DiabetesCare.net: Along with your advocacy role, are you working on any entertainment roles in the near future?

Avery: Currently, I’m directing a project for the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles.


To view Mr. Avery’s PSA, click
here.