About two years ago, my friend Tony lost three toes. The cause of this tragedy was type 2 diabetes, even though the disease is manageable and often preventable.
Tony then fought a host of complications. Small wounds would not heal and became life-threatening. Another amputation was necessary, and more were a looming threat. Comorbidities, including infection, high blood pressure and heart disease, waylaid him.
Tony was challenged on many other fronts. He was in and out of doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, hospitals and rehabilitation centers. He was financially stretched. He used up his short-term disability. He struggled to continue working in order to maintain his health insurance. Some days, he would work from home even when he didn’t have the strength to get out of bed. His cousin Carl moved in to care for him. He became bedridden. He only left home for doctors’ visits–and was only able to do that after calling 911 to get paramedics to carry him down the stairs of his second-floor flat.
Tony was not alone: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30.3 million Americans suffer from diabetes, 7.2 million of whom are undiagnosed. All are at risk for amputated limbs, stroke, blindness, heart disease and other serious complications.
Diabetes sufferers are sometimes stereotyped as relatively poor, uninsured, uneducated individuals who know little about health. Tony, by contrast, was a well-educated, well-insured, technology professional who spent most of his career in healthcare.
When he was in his 20s and 30s, Tony enjoyed life too much. He had an overwhelming handshake, a playful laugh and a loving stubbornness that, sometimes, did not serve him well. His habits were erratic. His weight was too high. A physician told him he had prediabetes, i.e., at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, but offered no clear prescription or follow-up. Tony tried to shift his habits, but with little success.
Tony was diagnosed with diabetes in his 40s. He episodically managed his condition with better diet, exercise and medications. But life…