Ex-NBA star: diabetics must change lifestyle

By NICK ROGERS, Greenwood Leflore Commonwealth

Living with diabetes can be daunting, but anyone diagnosed with the disease must embrace lifestyle changes to manage it, NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins said Thursday.

Wilkins addressed an audience of about 100 people at the Leflore County Civic Center as part of Greenwood Leflore Hospital’s community health fair.

The event was aimed at helping people living with chronic illnesses, particularly diabetes, better manage their own care. Many in attendance were diabetes patients or health-care professionals.

Wilkins encouraged those present to take advantage of free diabetes testing, even if they thought they were perfectly healthy.

“I grew up with eight brothers and sisters,” Wilkins told the crowd. “I was in better shape than any of them, and I’m the only one with diabetes.”

Wilkins, a longtime Atlanta Hawks player, ranks 12th on the NBA career scoring list with 26,668 points. He was diagnosed with Type II diabetes after retiring from professional basketball and has since spoken regularly about living with the disease.

In Mississippi, between one in five and one in eight people will be diagnosed with diabetes, compared with a national incidence rate of one in 12. Angela Jones, a registered nurse at Greenwood Leflore Hospital and a diabetes educator, said unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are to blame.

Wilkins said those same factors are the hardest things to change. “Medication is the easy part,” he said.

A number of services for those with diabetes were available at the fair. Several booths provided dietary information.

Dayna McAdams, a senior education manager with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, said many who suffer from diabetes struggle to manage their sugar intake effectively even if they think they know how to read nutrition labels.

Many check only for the amount of sugar per serving and ignore information on total carbohydrates, which are converted into sugar by the body throughout the day. For this reason, they underestimate the amount of sugar their body is actually getting, she said.

Sarah Hazelnis, a volunteer with FoodCorps, a federal program that provides nutritional education to school children, encouraged people to learn when certain vegetables are in season.

Hazelnis said many children in the Delta don’t have good access to fresh produce, and that can lead to health issues later in life. One solution, she said, is to get parents and their children invested in home gardening.

The hospital provided several tables where people could receive free diabetes testing. One nurse estimated that some 30 people had taken advantage of this service.

“You cure diabetes one patient at a time,” said Wilkins. “Manage it. That’s your cure.”

Contact Nick Rogers at 581-7235 or nrogers@gwcommonwealth.com.