Doctor takes aim at diabetes

By BRYN STOLE, Staff Writer

In more than 30 years of practice, Dr. Joseph Assini has seen some of the effects unchecked diabetes can have on someone’s life.
So Assini is launching a very public effort to eat better and lose weight, hoping to raise awareness about controlling some of the risk factors for diabetes.
The physician, a podiatrist at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, weighed in Thursday live on WABG’s “Good Morning Mississippi” and tipped the scale at 241 pounds. Now he’s taking small steps to living more healthily, improving his diet and exercising for at least a few minutes each day.
“Hopefully, this thing catches fire,” he said. “I just decided to throw myself out to the world and say, ‘If I can do it, you can do it. Let’s do it together and stop this.’”
Assini, a native of New York, said he’s seen diabetes’ effects on patients over the years, including loss of limbs, kidney failure and dialysis. Since moving to the Delta, though,  he’s seen the truly devastating impact the disease — which is widespread here — is having.
“In my 30 years of practice, I’ve seen gangrene, amputations, blindness,” Assini said. “I came down to the Delta, and it’s rampant here. Patients are getting the disease 30 or 40 years earlier than elsewhere in the country.”
Assini said higher risk factors in the Delta, including obesity, poor diets, lack of exercise and decreased access to fresh food, have contributed to the region’s high diabetes rates.
Facing an epidemic of the disease and its crippling effects on Delta communities, Assini said he realized that God was calling him to try to do something about it.
“I think we have to do something more,” Assini said. “I think I was called to the Delta to do this. I’m going to be a participant in my faith and get out there and hopefully encourage and inspire others to do the same.”
Assini said he plans to walk to work more often, cut empty calories — such as soda, cakes and cookies — out of his diet and try to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Assini said he wants to spread the message that diabetes doesn’t have to lead to catastrophic results.
“We can ensure that this does not happen,” Assini said. “It’s starting these habits early, knowing you don’t have to wait until these things happen.”
The habits include knowing and monitoring blood sugar levels, managing weight, exercising  — even if it’s just a short walk around the neighborhood — and sticking to a healthy diet.
“If you address the risk factors and make lifestyle changes, little by little you can make changes and not end up facing the disastrous end-stage results of uncontrolled diabetes,” Assini said. “You may have diabetes, but it shouldn’t be so severe that if you control everything, you’re at the worst end facing kidney failure and loss of limbs.”
After weighing in on “Good Morning Mississippi” Thursday morning, Assini came back to Greenwood, where he held a walk at the hospital’s wellness center to kick off the initiative.
Now he’s looking to talk to civic and church groups, host walks throughout the area and keep working to raise awareness of the disease and reach out to those at risk and suffering. He’s also hoping to raise money for the hospital’s Diabetes Education Center, which provides classes, counseling, support groups and educational outreach for those dealing with the disease.
“If people are inspired by this, perhaps they would send a donation in my name or my cause so we can go out help the people that need it the most and educate them,” Assini said.
Anyone interested in having Assini speak or host a walk with their group should contact Allison Faulkner at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, by phone at 451-5011 or via email at marketing@glh.org.
Donations to the Diabetes Education Center can be made online by visiting www.glhospital.wpengine.com/services/diabetes-education-center/.
“I will go anyplace and speak about it. If people want to organize a walk, I will go there and do it,” Assini said. “I’m hoping to inspire others. My point is, if you care enough to do it, you should be able to do this. My goal and my motto is: ‘Defeat diabetes. We can, we must, we will.’”