Super Bowl Sunday was an extra special day for me. Not because of the game — I enjoyed watching it, but it was just a game. No, what really made it special was that I was celebrating the 30th year I had exceeded my life expectancy.
I nearly died at age 5 from diabetes, an age-old disease that many people still don't know much about, and others don't take seriously enough.
Over 60 years later, I'm blessed to still be alive and active after nearly 100,000 blood tests, countless injections and constant vigilance. Less than 1 percent of the children who were diagnosed with Type 1 or juvenile diabetes in 1950 were still alive in 2000 when I was awarded the Half Century Medal.
TV chef and drug pitchwoman Paula Deen has declared diabetes isn't a death sentence. But she's only had to manage the less serious Type 2 diabetes for three years. And she's wrong.
Based on an estimate by the National Institutes of Health in 2000, diabetes kills about 450,000 Americans every year. And while deaths from heart disease and cancer have gone down in the past decade, diabetes deaths have increased.
Furthermore, diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease, which kills more women than all cancers combined. Many women fear breast cancer more than anything, but thanks to the emphasis on screening for early detection, as well as better treatments, most patients are cured.
February is heart disease month, with awareness campaigns such as the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women programs. If you want to go after the bigger killers, perhaps it's time to switch from pink to red ribbons and support fundraisers for heart disease and diabetes.
Why doesn't diabetes get more attention? Maybe the trouble is that you can't see diabetes. You don't see the person undergoing dialysis or being treated for a stroke or heart attack caused by diabetes. And these diabetic deaths aren't all older people. I know of an 11-month-old child who died from diabetes in Pinellas County because she wasn't diagnosed in time.
In fact, I diagnosed my own daughter's Type 1 diabetes on her 2nd birthday. Her pediatrician had given her a clean bill of health earlier in the day, but didn't bother doing a simple and inexpensive urine test. Fortunately, I had the knowledge and means to check and got her to the hospital before the situation became dire. But there's no way to keep her off rigorous daily treatment for the rest of her life, or until a cure is found.
My biggest disappointment on Super Sunday was that I still suffer from a disease that should have been curable by now.
More than 40 Nobel Prize winning scientists assured President Clinton that substantial government funding of embryonic stem cell research would lead to cures for dozens of deadly chronic diseases within 10 years. Clinton authorized the funding, but then President Bush cancelled it at the insistence of Right to Life groups who apparently don't have much regard for the right to life of people like me.
If you or a loved one has a deadly chronic disease, such as ALS, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Parkinson's and numerous others, I hope you demand that politicians support life-giving research and affordable health care for all.
Finding cures would not only save lives, but would save billions of dollars in health care costs. Ask your friends and neighbors to contact their members of Congress. The time to find a cure is before you need it.
Bill Hammond is a former TV journalist, soccer referee, author and director of the nonprofit Lifetime Education Foundation's Financial Awareness Institute who lives in Largo.