Mr. Diabetes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2007

FRANKLIN—Armed with glucose tablets, water, a cell phone and pamphlets, Mr. Diabetes is walking across the country to get the word out about the “insidious disease.”

Heading through Franklin Tuesday on a leg of his more than 10,000-mile Wake Up and Walk perimeter tour of the United States, Mr. Diabetes, or Andy Mandell, is executive director of the Defeat Diabetes Foundation in Madeira Beach, Fla., a senior citizen and an insulin-dependent diabetic.

“Diabetes is an epidemic that is out of control,” he said. “We needed something dramatic to draw as much attention to it as possible.

“There is all of this rhetoric about sending money and there is a cure around the corner. This walk is a result of the concern from that rhetoric.”

According to the Foundation’s Web site, diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses the food eaten each day. It is the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney disease, heart attack, stroke and non-traumatic amputations.

In 1985, Mandell was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 40.

Initially treated with diet control and oral medication, Mandell wasn’t getting better. While training for a cross-state series of eight marathons in Florida, he began losing weight and grew weak.

“I was pretty much bed-ridden for two years,” he said, and he was near death.

Realizing he had to become responsible for his own health to survive, Mandell finally gained control of the disease.

“The statistics are up to 22 million Americans have diabetes, with one-third not knowing they even have it,” he said. “Even though I had been physically active and was watching my eating habits, I was the perfect profile for type 2 adult onset diabetes because of risk factors and didn’t know it.”

The Foundation helps profile at-risk individuals to prevent some of the complications of the disease.

“We are not helpless or hopeless,” Mr. Diabetes said. “We’re here to bust a few myths. It makes for a full day.”

He and his fourth team of tour managers who have accompanied him on the road since 2002 — Russ and Shirley Barriger of Unionville, Mich.—have been documenting the walk, meeting people, speaking at functions and helping people obtain the information they need. The Barrigers’ son has the disease.

“We are constantly aware of the opportunity to get the word out and to get people to share their stories,” Mandell said.

“Not everyone has the medical oversight or the ability to get the proper foods they need to manage their disease. People are seeking information, and our job is to make sure they get it.”

Mandell said that one person suffering with diabetes in one place, even in another country, faces the same issues as someone in another location, though there is no one source to turn to for accurate, easily digested information.

“We are here to bridge that gap of knowledge. We want to get uniform information out to the people,” he said.

Another goal is to build an identity for Mr. Diabetes, providing a face, body and voice, and giving people a real person with which to identify.

“There are no hidden agendas,” he said noting that diabetic patients, who represent a $175 billion a year industry, have been exploited by the health system in the country.

“Type II diabetes is preventable 90 percent of the time. We need to bring this financial burden down. People should not be lead into believing in cures that don’t work. As a community, people need to be able to get to one source and rely on it.”

Mandell and his brother, Jerry, founded the Defeat Diabetes Foundation in 1990.

According to Mandell’s biography, he has developed several successful educational games, including Quations, The Crossmath Game and Crossmath Puzzles.

An exercise enthusiast, he has a black belt in Shaolin Kempo karate. He has participated in numerous triathlon activities and was an avid runner prior to his diagnosis.

He will return to Florida around May of next year, but plans to head out after that during another tour to work with youth in the martial arts.

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