MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Finds He Needs to Make Time for Type 2 Diabetes

“I accepted it,” he says, reflecting back on the day he was diagnosed with type 2. “I didn’t mind it then because I just said to myself, ‘you know, this is no big deal.’ It’s like shaving. Testing blood sugar is just one of the things I have to do.”

| Mar 26, 2009

The first time Chris Matthews heard the words "high blood sugar" was in 2002 at a doctor's office in Washington, DC, where he was being treated for malaria after a trip to Zimbabwe. He didn't pay a lot of attention to the warning about his glucose levels after a blood test. The malaria was subsequently cured, and he continued at his usual rapid-fire pace, traveling the country giving speeches about his best-selling books ("Life is a Campaign" is his latest;  "Hardball" is his best known) and his work both inside the White House, where he was a speechwriter for President Carter, and outside, where he was administrative assistant to House Speaker Tip O'Neill on Capitol Hill. Then there's his work on television, where he is host of Hardball on MSNBC and the Chris Matthew Show, which airs on Sundays just before Meet the Press on NBC. He stayed busy, and his schedule remained overbooked. He let the warning about high blood sugar go into the background-so far back it was out of sight and definitely out of mind. Besides, there just wasn't any room in his life to deal with it. 

The next time Matthews visited a doctor was for his annual physical. Those same words, high blood sugar, were repeated, and the result was the same. Now there were a lot of other things on his mind: a presidential election had to be covered, publishers were asking him to write another book, big money was being offered for more speeches, and Hardball was gaining viewers.

"I never had it in my head about checking blood sugar," he says, looking back at those moments. "I ignored diabetes. I didn't know what high blood sugar meant. And when the doctor would tell me about it, I always said ‘Yeah, OK,' and left it at that." When asked about diabetes in his family, Chris answered that his father had it before he died at age 85 of a heart attack. He never connected the proverbial dots, despite the doctor's repeated warnings. After all, he had things to do.

Jump ahead to December 6, 2006. Chris had a big day ahead of him. His wife, Kathleen, was retiring from her job anchoring the news on WJLA-TV in Washington, DC, and a big party was set for later that evening. He planned to be there as soon as Hardball was off the air, but all day long, he'd been feeling less than great.  When the shooting pains in his stomach became too much, Chris drove to his doctor's office, where some tests were run. The next event wasn't on his schedule either. It was an ambulance trip to the emergency room at Washington Hospital Center, where more tests were run.  When the ER staff looked at the results, they noticed a blood sugar level above 350. Yes, those words again. 

Chris didn't make it to his wife's party. Instead, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and admitted to the hospital for two days. He had to take a few weeks off from television so that he could work with his doctor on the right amount of pills to take (Januvia and metformin) and find the correct amount of Lantus insulin to inject in the evening. From that moment on, taking care of his diabetes was part of Chris's daily schedule. 

"I've always had to deal with high blood sugar," he says, "never hypoglycemia, except for one time: I was actually driving home from my doctor's office on the East West Highway outside Washington, DC, and still trying to get used to the pills and the insulin. Well, it was that feeling of a rainfall occurring inside yourself. My shirt was drenched and I was scared. I got home, thank God, and I was trying to decide what to do. My son brought me orange juice and then I ate some chicken and rice, but it took a while to start feeling better.  As I'm going through this, the phone rang. It was Ted Kennedy. ‘I heard you've been sick,' he said, before telling me that a number of members of Congress have family members who deal with diabetes every day. While I was talking to him, I kept thinking what had just happened and how fast it happened." 

When he came back to Hardball, Matthews didn't hide the reason he'd been away. Of course, by that time, many industry columns and blogs had already reported he had type 2 diabetes. "I'm back. I'm healthy," he announced on the set of Hardball on location at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, accompanied by Senator John Edwards, who was about to get into the presidential contest. 

"I accepted it," he says, reflecting back on that day. "I didn't mind it then because I just said to myself, ‘you know, this is no big deal.' It's like shaving. Testing blood sugar is just one of the things I have to do."

One of the things he isn't doing, however, is exercising. "I've got my A1c in the 6% to 7% range," he says with the same intensity as if talking about the most recent economic stimulus proposal. "My blood sugar is in the low 100s, but I just can't get myself on the treadmill." (It has been sitting unused in the basement.) "I could probably do it for a half hour when I wake up and watch ‘Morning Joe' (an MSNBC political show airing from 6 to 9 in the morning). This is something I have to get serious about. I just haven't found the time."   

Chris Matthews does pay attention to food now. He makes his own cup of coffee in the morning instead of what had been his usual routine: going out to Starbucks for a frappacino and a pastry. He doesn't add milk to the coffee anymore, citing a desire "not to waste the calories." Breakfast usually includes a bowl of "Special K." The Matthews family has a former military chef who comes to their house every Monday and prepares dinners for a week. Now that diabetes has a place at their table, fish is a common entrée. "Lunch is my problem area," Chris says. "I always eat in the NBC commissary. Usually I'll get a sandwich or whatever their special is. I guess you can describe lunch as ‘pot luck' because I'm never really sure what I'm going to get." 

In an all-too-rare quiet moment, Chris looks back at those days in Philadelphia when part of the culture was a daily intake of cheese steak and fries. "We grew up with bad habits. All of us did in the 50s and 60s. I remember my dad stopping at a bakery after church every Sunday, and we'd each eat two donuts. My mom would prepare huge meals with lots of butter and fat. I had a paper route, and I'd drink bottles of soda loaded with sugar instead of getting a glass of water, and not once did anyone think about it. But then this happens, and I can tell you, this is what it took to get my attention."

Right now Chris's schedule is still booked solid. But jammed into that encyclopedic mind of all things political, somewhere between a report card for President Obama's first 100 days and how the AIG bailout mess got past Congressional leaders, you'll find the three words "high blood sugar" still in the background. This time though, although they're out of sight, they're no longer out of mind. Now, Chris Matthews is really playing hardball.

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Categories: A1c Test, Beginners, Blood Sugar, Celebrities, Diabetes, Diabetes, Food, Insulin, Lantus, Low Blood Sugar, Type 2 Issues

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Posted by Anonymous on 30 March 2009

Good on you Chris,although I really cant relate to a type 2 diabetic who eats high carbohydrate food such as cereal and bread.I assume he needs to take drugs as well,and certainly that is his choice,so again well done!

Posted by Anonymous on 31 March 2009

We need more prominent people to spotlight living with diabetes type 2. There are so many people that do not even know that they have this disease. Especially now during these hard economic times with people buying cheap high carb foods, not able to afford visits to their healthcare provider, no health insurance and depression causing folks to sit an watch TV, drink, and other things to escape their daily woes. The last thing these folks want to do it get out and exercise...Thanks Chris and others in the news and entertainment industry...speak out, and often!

Posted by Rick on 31 March 2009

I'm a big fan on Chris Mathews. I think he's the best at what he does. I'm glad he's finally paying the attention that diabetes deserves and I'd like to see him get more involved. One piece of advise, if I may, that I would give him is, "get on that treadmill at least 3-5 times a week and don't ever stop." He's a high motor guy and exercise is great for stress reduction and the health benefits are as long as your arm. Oh, and it also will make you diabetes much easier to control. Best wishes Chris.

Posted by Florian on 31 March 2009

Hey Chris,
If you have the opportunity to read this, then please do me a favor and tell all your friends in the White House, Congress, and other high places that we're only a few billion $$$ away from finding a cure for diabetes. Ask them to support the research that is going on to find a cure so we have one in my lifetime.

I've been a practicing Type 1 since 1967 trying to do everything right to stay healthy and fit. I am ready for a cure but time is running out. Use your influence and contacts to get it done. Thanks

Posted by Anonymous on 1 April 2009

Hi Chris - I have had Type I Diabetes for 43yrs now, have been on insulin since age 11. I wear an insulin pump to help control my bloodsugars. I'm very happy you have now taken this disease seriously, and would hope you have some influence to bring this disease to the forefront. Now that President Obama has lifted the ban on stem cell research, myself and millions of others are holding out hope, and from my reasearch I understand there could be a cure within 8 or 9yr. I have lost most of the sight in my left eye, had many laser treatments on the right, have peripheral neuropathy, and some mild diabetic kidney disease. I'm trying to hang in there until a cure is found. I've been waiting 43yrs, so only a few more to go. The best of luck in your daily managment of your blood sugars, eating right, and excercise.
Thank you

Posted by seashore on 7 April 2009

Like most type-2 diabetics, Chris Matthews is in the dark about treating his diabetes. The fundamental requirement is a low-carb diet, plus frequent measurement of blood sugar. He should always keep peak blood sugar after meals below 140 mg/dL. Although exercise can help,it is much less important than diet.

Why don't his doctors know these fundamental principles? The reason is that the medical profession is largely in the dark concerning diabetes.

Posted by Anonymous on 8 April 2009

My best wishes to you, Chris. I'm a fan. However, I'm also a diabetes nurse specialist. One glaring omission from the story here, is that you attended a Diabetes Education Program. If you did, it is not shared, and this IS the only treatment for diabetes. You can take all the pills and insulin in the world, but if you don't know ALL about managing diabetes, they are not likely to keep you in control. Please get the education you need from a Diabetes Education Program, and share the importance of this with everyone... INCLUDING YOUR PHYSICIAN, who should have sent you directly to a program the first time you had elevated readings! (Shame on that doctor, if he/she did not send you to a program first thing!)
Best of luck you to with your self-managment!

Posted by Anonymous on 4 June 2009

Chris Matthews is quoted: "As I'm going through this, the phone rang. It was Ted Kennedy. ‘I heard you've been sick,' he said, before telling me that a number of members of Congress have family members who deal with diabetes every day."

Members of Congress have family members who deal with diabetes every day? Do they have family members who deal with having diabetes without having health insurance every day?

I did this for over a year and a half. No matter how few carbohydrates I ate or how much I exercised, I couldn't keep it under control without medication. I had high blood pressure, too, and no matter what I did about diet or exercise for that, I couldn't keep it under control either.

Uncontrolled diabetes and uncontrolled high blood pressure will do significant damage to one's kidneys. When the kidneys are already damaged by massive stones inside them, scarring them from the inside, it's a recipe for disaster - or, to be specific, a recipe for dialysis.

And so here I am, on dialysis. I started in January 2008, although my kidney disease was diagnosed in January 2007, less than a year and a half after I got health insurance again.

But members of Congress and their families don't have to deal with this. They all get health insurance for life, for which we pay. Their premium is about the same as a Medicare Part B premium, less than $100/month.

Chris, as a fellow Type 2, you need to get busy promoting the idea that we all need and deserve health *care* (which is very different from health *insurance*), whether we are diabetic or not. You're lucky that you had insurance when you wound up in the hospital. Not everyone in this country is as fortunate, and even those who are often end up having to declare bankruptcy just because of medical bills.

We need single payer health care now, and we need to name the bill after Senator Kennedy.

Posted by radhunt on 15 July 2009

Everyone was very nice to mr. Mathews,but
he was non-complient.Doctors can give advice
but the PATIENT has to listen.I hope this got his attention.Type-2 patientsdo have the same complications as type1.
Wish him well.

Posted by Jim Childers on 4 August 2009

Chris wake up! You keep hammering that question about old folks having to sign their life away in the health bill. Get a grip son I'm 68 and I signed a living will decades ago, plus I donated my organs. Don't know who would want them old, wrinkled and all that but they can have them. Now I believe in universal health care for everyone and a single payer system as well. I have govt. insurance medicare and it certainly has served me well. Not to say we all arn't going to have to dig deep to get us out of this dark hole the little cowboy put us in. Just doesn't make sense to me that poor folk keep yelling in the streets to fill the coffers of the greedy health barons in this country. Guess that is just America!


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