Patti LaBelle Sings out for Diabetes Freedom

Patti LaBelle says she is thankful that she passed out on stage during a concert performance 10 years ago.

| Nov 1, 2004

Patti LaBelle says she is thankful that she passed out on stage during a concert performance 10 years ago.

That dramatic moment resulted in a diabetes diagnosis for the two-time Grammy Award-winning diva.

The event got LaBelle on track with controlling her blood glucose levels, eating a healthful diet and exercising regularly—all while maintaining an active schedule of performances as one of America’s most popular entertainers.

“I thought I had passed out from exhaustion,” LaBelle told Diabetes Health. “I was rushed to the hospital, and the doctor diagnosed me with diabetes. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t passed out that night . . . I wouldn’t have found out I had diabetes [until much later].”

Getting Personal

Knowing she had diabetes enabled LaBelle to control the condition—and continue her stellar career.

Until she learned of her diabetes, the Philadelphia native says she was always scared of going to the doctor.

“We, as African-Americans, don’t go to the doctor enough. We should definitely visit our doctors more.”

LaBelle urges people to see their doctors more often to maintain good health and find out if they are at risk for diabetes or if they might already have diabetes and don’t know about it yet.

She recently teamed up with Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturers of Glucerna bars and shakes, on their Diabetes Freedom campaign, working to promote diabetes awareness and to encourage people to better manage their diabetes. A special contest is part of the campaign to foster successful diabetes management. The grand-prize winner will get to see LaBelle in concert, with personal backstage access.

LaBelle is getting personally involved; after all, diabetes has had a significant impact on her own life.

“I remember my mother died from diabetes. She was an amputee at age 58,” LaBelle says. “So many people that I knew died with diabetes—it was scary.”

But, she says, “Diabetes doesn’t have to be such a bad thing if you control it.”

Challenges on the Road

Despite her efforts to eat a healthful diet, exercise and manage her medications, life on the road has its own set of challenges for Labelle, who recently released an album called “Timeless Journey.”

“The biggest challenge for me is trying to take my medicine on time,” she says. “Being at the airport and not being able to find a bathroom to go and take my medicine or give myself injections is a challenge that I deal with very often.”

Sometimes low blood glucose episodes occur at inconvenient times—even for famous performers.

“One night before a show in Miami, there was a doctor on hand who told me not to go on [due to a low blood glucose],” LaBelle says. “I told him that I had to perform. So, I had some things to eat with carbohydrate to just get me through it— and I got through it.”

A Message to Others

LaBelle strongly urges others to control their blood glucose levels through frequent monitoring and actively taking a part in their own diabetes management.

“You should test your blood sugar as often as possible,” she says. “If it’s too low or too high, take care of it right away . . . Never neglect yourself, not for a minute.”

Mary Milewski is a Connecticut based freelance writer for print and broadcast media. She has a master’s degree in journalism and has lived with diabetes for 15 years.

In Show Biz for Over 40 Years

Patti LaBelle has been known for her powerhouse vocal delivery since she started recording and performing live in 1961 as the leader of the Bluebelles, who had the million-selling hit, “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman.”

In her decades as a performer, the Luther Vandross-inspired LaBelle achieved dozens of hits that include:

  • The 1983 chart topper “If Only You Knew”
  • The 1985 smash “New Attitude”
  • The 1986 pop and R&B number-one single “On My Own,” a duet with Michael McDonald
More recent hits include:
  • “Somebody Loves You Baby”
  • “When You’ve Been Blessed”
  • “The Right Kind of Lover”
  • “When You Talk About Love”


LaBelle has also written two best-selling books: an autobiography called “Don’t Block the Blessings” and a cookbook titled “LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About.”

How a Diva With Diabetes Takes Control

Patti LaBelle controls her diabetes with exercise, including swimming and walking.

She also enjoys a healthful diet. “I like steamed spinach with garlic. I do all of my vegetables that way,” LaBelle says. She also enhances her meals with herbs and spices.

She makes sure to plan in advance on performance days to avoid low blood glucose during a show. For extra energy before performances, LaBelle says she likes to eat some chicken breast or steamed shrimp. She enjoys a salad of spinach, sliced tomatoes, onions and lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing.

“I make sure that I follow the same routine with my diet, exercise and medication. Each day I take Humalog injections at mealtimes, also Glucophage,” she says. “I have about three small meals. I also try to get as much exercise each day as possible.”

‘Diabetes Freedom’ Contest

Legendary entertainer Patti La- Belle recently joined forces with Abbott Laboratories, the makers of Glucerna bars and shakes, to launch a new campaign called “Diabetes Freedom.” Together they hope to inspire others to manage their diabetes and experience the benefits of improved diabetes control.

A nationwide contest was launched to find people who are achieving “diabetes freedom” by successfully managing or controlling their diabetes. People with diabetes were invited to write a 250- to 500-word essay that answers the question, “What does ‘diabetes freedom’ mean to you?”

Entries were due by September 20, 2004.

The grand-prize winner was invited to see LaBelle in concert, with backstage access. In addition, the grand-prize winner and four firstprize winners were guests of honor at Diabetes Freedom Day, October 28, at Philadelphia’s Independence Visitor Center.

At this event, people with diabetes and those who help others manage their condition were asked to sign a pledge to control their diabetes 365 days a year. Patti LaBelle presented awards to the contest winners. Local people with diabetes, healthcare professionals and dignitaries were invited.

To learn more about the Diabetes Freedom campaign, visit the Web site at

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Categories: Blood Glucose, Celebrities, Diabetes, Diabetes, Inspiration, Personal Stories

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Nov 1, 2004

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