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Dick Clark has had diabetes for at least 11 years—but he only made it public this past spring.
When he learned that more than two-thirds of people with diabetes die from heart disease, Clark wanted to get the word out. That’s why Clark, 74, who is often dubbed “America’s Oldest Teenager,” decided to finally come forward and publicize his condition.
This spring he teamed up with the American Association of Diabetes Educators and pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck & Co. as spokesman for a campaign called “Diabetes: Know the Heart Part.”
‘We’ve Got a Problem’
“I’ve had type 2 diabetes for 11 years now, and when this news came out that two-thirds of the people with diabetes die of heart disease and stroke, it seemed like a good idea to get out and beat the bushes and let people know, hey—we’ve got a problem,” Clark says.
The “Diabetes: Know the Heart Part” campaign launched in April 2004 and continues through the spring and summer as Clark travels to several cities nationwide to educate people on the link between diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
So Busy He Didn’t Recognize the Symptoms
Clark’s career spans more than 50 years.
The former host of “American Bandstand” and producer of the American Music Awards, he is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of broadcast entertainment.
His TV and radio career kept him so busy that he never recognized the symptoms of his type 2 diabetes, often called a “silent killer” for its behind-the-scenes way of sneaking up on the body’s vascular, nervous and other systems.
Then came his diagnosis in 1994.
“I just went in for a regular physical checkup with my doctor. I was surprised. I didn’t have any classic symptoms of elevated blood glucose such as increased thirst or urination, but I understand that many people with type 2 diabetes do not have symptoms. At first my doctor said it could be handled with diet and exercise, and if that didn’t work, then he’d give me medication.”
Clark doesn’t know of any history of diabetes in his family, “But that probably is because of poor record-keeping more than anything else.”
Oral Meds, Portion Control and 20 Minutes of Exercise
Clark now treats his diabetes with oral medications, a diet focused on controlling portion sizes, and 20 minutes of exercise daily.
“My exercise and diet didn’t pull it off to my doctor’s satisfaction,” he says. “So he put me on medication shortly after my diagnosis. Now I take more pills than you can shake a stick at. But the important thing is not what I take, but for you to find out what you’ve got to do if you find out you have diabetes: talk to your healthcare provider, who will tell you whether or not you need medication.”
Exercise is the aspect of diabetes care that Clark finds most challenging, primarily because of his hectic schedule.
“The hardest part for me is staying with the exercise program,” Clark says. “The food part isn’t too hard to control, even though we’re eating out a lot. I can continue what I eat no matter where I am. It’s the exercise that’s tough. I don’t like exercise to begin with. I do 20 minutes a day of exercise at home, but with travel—when I’m in a hotel or here in New York—I have to remember to get out and walk a lot, go up and down the stairs, and try not to take the elevator.”
Clark’s California home is near the ocean, so frequent walks up and down the beach with his dogs provide some of the exercise he needs to control his diabetes, keep his A1Cs within normal limits and maintain his 159-pound bodyweight.
Clark also uses a small area in the breezeway of his home as a mini-gym. The area is equipped with a walking machine, a stair climber, a rowing machine, a bench where he lifts 15-pound weights and, of course, a television.
“I got into this routine where if I’ve been out on the beach with the dogs, then I’ll get into my area and watch television while I exercise on the machines in the house,” he says, and laughs. “Television is the only saving grace there is to exercise.”
Do as I Say, Not as I Do
Clark says his daily habits are not the important thing—it’s that people should understand the connection between heart disease and diabetes.
“It is important if you have diabetes to check with your healthcare provider to find out what you need to do. And, if you haven’t been in to see a doctor, you should go in for a checkup and find out whether or not you’ve got problems,” he says. “You see, the damage occurs behind the scenes. You can’t see heart disease starting in your body.”
Virginia Zamudio, RN, MSN, CDE, president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, is working on the “Diabetes: Know the Heart Part” campaign with Clark. She says that diabetes control isn’t a “one size fits all” issue.
“People with diabetes definitely need to monitor their blood glucose levels regularly for immediate feedback on whether their daily regimen is working,” Zamudio says. Cholesterol tests (lipid profiles) are also suggested for monitoring heart health.
People with diabetes should pay special attention to controlling blood pressure to decrease the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems. Healthy eating and regular physical activity can help with that, Zamudio says. Doing the right things for diabetes also helps control risk for heart disease. (See the sidebar “The ABCs of Diabetes” for specific goals related to the “Diabetes: Know the Heart Part” campaign.)
“Too many people just think of amputations, eye disease and kidney failure when they think about diabetes,” Zamudio says. “They don’t realize that just by virtue of having diabetes, a person has just as much risk of having a heart attack as someone who has already had a heart attack.”
To get a free copy of the “Diabetes: Know the Heart Part” brochure, which provides helpful information about diabetes and what you can do to help reduce your risk for heart disease, visit www.knowtheheartpart.com or call (800) 224-4089.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.