REGIONAL – Those driving on Route 1 may have noticed 61-year-old Andrew Mandell walking through Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Clinton, Madison, Guilford, Branford, East Haven, and New Haven.
Mandell, the sole walker for The Mr. Diabetes Wake-Up and Walk Tour, is walking about fifteen miles a day on feet that are numb due to extreme diabetic neuropathy, a complication of his diabetes.
All along the Connecticut shoreline, Mandell said he has “met some wonderful people.”
The mission for Mandell is to complete a 7,600 mile walk along the perimeter of the United States which began in January 2002 and he hopes to complete between January 2008 and January 2009.
Many would assume vigorous training would be required to take on this endeavor, but Mandell said he has exercised all his life and said the most difficult part was getting the logistics in place.
Going from Florida to San Diego and then from San Diego to Seattle and from Seattle to Augusta, ME, Mandell is on his last section of the walk.
“I am meeting and talking with people because it’s more important to get the word out that diabetes is preventable,” Mandell said.
Mandell said he does not want to spread his message through mass mediums like television but rather have one-on-one talks or small group discussions regarding this deadly disease.
Speaking at schools, fraternal and civic organizations, boys and girls clubs, scouting organizations, and with leaders, Mandell hopes to help prevent diabetes and provide help for those who have the disease.
Diagnosed in 1985, Mandell’s treatment began with diet control and progressed to oral medication.
In 1996, Mandell’s diabetes went out of control while training for a cross-state series of eight marathons in Florida and he began to lose weight.
Mandell first attributed the weight loss to his increased training schedule but when it continued; he grew weaker, became sicker, and ended up in bed for two years in agonizing pain and came close to dying.
Realizing his only chance for survival was to become aware of the intricacies of the disease and be responsible, Mandell became an advocate for his own health.
“Even though I was physically active and watched my eating habits, I was the perfect profile for type 2 adult onset diabetes because of risk factors and didn’t even know it,” Mandell said.
The Defeat Diabetes Foundation reports, that such risk factors include having family history of diabetes, low activity level, poor diet, overweight, older than 45 years of age, high blood pressure, irregular cholesterol level, impaired glucose tolerance, metabolic syndrome, gestational diabetes, weighing more than 9 pounds at birth, and those whose background is African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic American/Latino, or Pacific Islander.
Ultimately, Mandell gained control of his diabetes and requires the daily use of rapid acting insulin and long acting insulin to safely maintain his blood glucose levels.
Mandell said he is gathering information, testing products, and trying nutritional and fitness approaches.
“Type II diabetes is 90 percent preventable,” Mandell said, adding that diabetes represents $135 to $150 billion to the U.S. economy.
While Mandell hopes a cure is found, he said it will only happen “if they (the health care industry) can make more money from the cure than the disease itself.”
Mandell said diabetes prevention can be described as a three-legged stool consisting of exercise, nutrition, and medical screening.
For nutrition, Mandell suggests five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables, good advice for everyone but critical to diabetics,
Mandell encourages officials at institutions, such as schools, to offer more nutritious meals.
Workout gyms are synonymous with fitness, but Mandell said taking a walk is great exercise.
Meeting with elected officials, Mandell hopes to encourage the development of handicap accessible passive recreational areas.
Mandell suggests diabetics talk with an endocrinologist and those who think they may have diabetes to get a screening test done.
Twenty one million people in the U.S. have diabetes, Dawn Swidorski, foundation public outreach director said, adding that another 73 million are at risk.
“That means nearly one in every three residents of Old Saybrook lives with diabetes or is at significant risk for developing it,” Swidorski said.
Warning signs for type 1 diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, rapid weight loss, fatigue, mood changes, nausea and vomiting, and high amounts of sugar in blood or urine.
Type 2 warning signs include blurred vision, tingling or numbness in legs, feet, or fingers, frequent skin infections, recurring gum or urinary tract infections, itching of skin or genitals, drowsiness, slow healing of cuts and bruises, or any of the type 1 symptoms.
Those who have type 1 diabetes have bodies which fail to produce insulin while type 2 diabetics have a pancreas that produces insulin but their bodies do not properly use it.
While those with type 2 diabetes respond to lifestyle changes they may require insulin.
More information about diabetes is available by visiting www.defeatdiabetes.org.