Diabetic Celebrities

Since the American Diabetes Association‘s Website is a little out of date, I am going to have to tweak the questions for Novemeber – National Diabetes Month. Here is today’s topic:

November 8 Diabetes Celebrities – From rock stars like Bret Michaels to professional athletes like Jay Cutler, people with diabetes are showing how diabetes has not stopped them. Who’s your favorite diabetes celebrity?

Actually, Bret Michaels is my favorite celebrity that has type 1 diabetes. In my senior year of college, I actually wrote an entire paper on him, and how he doesn’t let diabetes slow him down. I think it turned out great — but you should decide too. Take a read through my paper (sorry, it’s long.. I know. In word its 15+ pages doubled spaced… but it has some very interesting points!!!)

Bret Michaels - Balancing Life as a Rock Star and a Type 1 Diabetic - Read His Story at www.iamatype1diabetic.wordpress.com
Bret Michaels: Balancing Life as a Rock Star and a Type 1 Diabetic

            Being diagnosed with a life changing disease, such as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, most certainly will change a person’s life dramatically. New patients are forced to change their daily diet routine, increase their activity level and reduce the amount of stress in their lives in order to keep their blood sugar, or blood glucose, level within a normal range. Being diagnosed with diabetes, especially as a child, forces people to wake up and deal with the life they have been dealt. Every diabetic has their highs and lows, their ups and downs, and many little imperfections along the way. Life will never be perfect, and dealing with life as a diabetic makes it even harder.

Diabetes is diagnosed in people of all different genders, racial backgrounds and ages. In the United States alone, diabetes affects nearly 24 million children and adults. Diabetes and its complications is one of the top 10 leading causes of deaths, more than 230,000 deaths in Americans each year (Austin).

It is essential for people with diabetes to maintain a blood sugar level within a normal range. Normal blood sugar levels range from 70 to 150 mg/dL. Glucose enters the bloodstream when foods and drinks are digested. Breads and cereals contain carbohydrates in the form of starches and sugars, but once eaten, the digestive system breaks them down and they are absorbed into the blood stream as glucose (Austin). Diabetics must check their blood sugar levels often throughout the day. To do so, they must prick their fingers with a very small needle for a dab of blood, and then put the blood onto a test strip that is already inserted into their blood glucose meter. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious problems such as damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves (Austin). People who are able to keep their blood glucose levels close to normal are proven to avoid complications due to diabetes.

Bret Michaels, the lead singer of the rock band Poison, was only six years old when he was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “It was a pretty scary time of my life” he recalls (Assimon). As a young child, Michaels remembers playing football and having to run to the sidelines to check his blood sugar level. Michaels was diagnosed in 1970, a time when using glucose meters was very expensive, and a rather new technology. Michaels reflected, “Instead, you had to pee into a cup, drop a pill into it, and wait 45 minutes until it bubbled up. I was like a lab rat, but I was fortunate because I’m one of those guys who doesn’t fear what people think of me” (Piper 23).

Like many parents of Type 1 diabetics, Michaels’ parents have been very supportive of him since the diagnosis. “They took me to the hospital at 3 in the morning. My dad’s not a crier, and that was the first time I ever saw him cry,” Michaels remembers (Marcus 4D). His father eventually came back composed, and ready to see how his family’s life was about to change. Michaels recalls sitting in the hospital with his parents while learning how to give insulin injections. The doctors wanted him to learn how to deal with diabetes, and continue to have a great life. He knew he had to work harder, be aware of his body, eat properly and exercise regularly.

Michaels matured rather quickly after being diagnosed. At the age of 10, he attended a diabetes camp where he learned that he was not alone in dealing with diabetes (Austin). At Camp Kno-Koma, he met other children dealing with similar life issues. He learned important life-long skills, such as how to eat properly and maintain normal glucose levels. He was able to fully comprehend how important it is to take care of himself, and routinely go to his doctor for testing. Michaels was able to build up his confidence as a Type 1 diabetic because of the support of his family, his doctors and the children at Camp Kno-Koma.

The hemoglobin A1c test is a routine blood test for diabetics. The results show average blood glucose measurement over the previous four weeks to three months. Higher hemoglobin A1c levels are found in people with persistently elevated blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends that an average well-controlled diabetic should have a hemoglobin A1c level of 7% (Executive Summary). People who are able to keep their blood glucose levels close to normal are proven to avoid complications due to diabetes.

Diabetes affects the pancreas, the organ in your body that naturally produces insulin. Human bodies need insulin in order to break down sugars into energy for cells. People who have diabetes are unable to produce enough insulin to keep up with the food they ingest on their diets. Insulin is absolutely necessary for the body to remain healthy and to utilize glucose as a fuel (Austin).

Until the discovery of insulin, diabetes was a feared children’s disease that would most certainly lead to death within a year (Wright 1391). Doctors would put their patients on low calorie diets of as little of 450 calories per day to prolong their lives. Because of prolonged and elevated blood sugar levels, patients would become restless and eventually die in a deep diabetic coma.

In 1921, a young surgeon named Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best began to experiment theories by removing the pancreas of a dog. The dog had developed diabetes, which resulted in its blood sugar level to rise. The dog had become thirsty, urinated more often and all together became weaker because of its high blood glucose level (Wright 1391-2). Testing on another dog, they were able to remove the pancreas and use it for testing purposes. They came up with a new extract substance of water and salts called “isletin” and injected into the diabetic dog. Because of the extract, the blood glucose level of the dog had dropped, and it started to get stronger. By giving the diabetic dog a few injections a day, they could keep it healthy and free of symptoms of high blood sugar.

The first human subject to receive insulin was a 14-year-old boy who was severely malnourished. He was near his death; only weighing 65 pounds, and his hair was falling out. He spoke very slowly and did nothing but lay around all day. Within two weeks of being on continuous insulin injections, the boy was “brighter, more active, looked better and said he felt better” (Wright 1396). Seven patients were treated in this initial study, and they all showed signs of improvement after countless insulin injections.

Juvenile Diabetics like Michaels, or more often called Type 1 Diabetics, must give themselves shots of insulin to bring their sugar levels down before they eat. This kind of diabetes is genetic, which means that people are born with it or develop it as a child and have to treat it with insulin shots for the rest of their lives. Type 1 diabetics are unable to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates how cells obtain energy from food. Before consuming a meal or snack, diabetics must check their blood sugar level, and according to their blood sugar reading, adjust how much insulin they should inject. Insulin takes approximately 10-15 minutes to enter into the bloodstream before a diabetic can eat.

The type of diabetes a patient has is determined by whether the patient is insulin resistant (Type 2) or insulin deficient without insulin resistance (Type 1). Many Type 2 diabetics can control their sugar levels by dieting or taking pills. 90% of all people diagnosed are classified as type 2 diabetics (Kent). Obesity is thought to be the primary cause in people being diagnosed, although the risk increases with age. The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes after the age of 40 is less likely if the person is physically active (Kent). If not treated properly, diabetes can cause heart disease, blindness, and nerve damage along with other complications. Unlike people with Type 1, the body of Type 2 diabetics produces the hormone insulin, but cannot properly process the insulin their body makes.

Shortly after his diagnosis, Michaels “remember[s] I was in between kindergarten and first grade. I’ll never forget how extremely sick and dehydrated I was” (Austin). When first diagnosed with diabetes, patients are consistently thirsty, have a dry mouth, frequently urinate and are constantly sleepy due to their elevated blood sugar levels. Hyperglycemia occurs when diabetics have higher then normal blood sugar levels. Most people will begin to feel symptoms of hyperglycemia after their blood sugar reaches 200 mg/dL. Chronic hyperglycemia can produce a very wide variety of serious complications over a period of years, including kidney damage, neurological damage, cardiovascular damage, damage to the retina or damage to feet and legs (Austin).

In contrast, hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels are lower then normal. Exercise, taking to much insulin, or taking insulin without eating afterwards will cause hypoglycemia, and for some it can be extremely dangerous. Diabetics begin to feel symptoms of hypoglycemia once their blood sugar levels are below 70 mg/dL, in most cases. Symptoms of low blood sugar include jittery or shaky hands, wet skin, excessive sweating, and rapid heartbeat that lead to confusion, slurred speech, blurred vision, dizziness, and loss of coordination. The partial predicament of impending hypoglycemia is possible, but diabetics need to self-manage their blood sugar levels in order to prevent hypoglycemia episodes (Siminerio 18). Severe hypoglycemia, characterized by blood sugar levels below 50 mg/dL, can cause you to pass out, have seizures, or enter into a diabetic coma. “If your high, that’s a different element—you feel good and you’re aware of what’s going on. It’s the low blood sugars that really throw me off,” Michaels explains about diabetes and his particular conditions (Piper, 23). Diabetes is a complex disease that requires patients to be knowledgeable of their own body, and understand that many daily decisions can affect their blood sugar levels (Siminerio 19).

Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, can affect anyone, famous and non-famous alike. Michaels emphasizes that no one should allow a disease to stop them from achieving their goals, and that is not easy to keep everything under control all of the time. Controlling diabetes comes with a lot of work, and it is not any easier for him to control it than it is for any other diabetic. Michaels is one of millions affected by diabetes, including numerous other celebrities. Bret Michaels joins the list of musically famous celebrities and diabetics, including Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lewis, Tommy Lee, Elvis Presley and Nick Jonas.

Living the life of a rock star is a lot more complicated then anyone could ever imagine. Along with the rock star lifestyle, other factors also play in, making it hard to balance the world of fame and glamour verses one’s real life issues. Managing the life of a type-one-diabetic-rock-star, is much more intense than any typical rock star or any typical diabetic.

Bret was extremely tense and anxious when he walked out onto stage at Madison Square Garden in 1987. Because his hands were sweaty and shaking from being nervous, he was not able to feel the signs of his blood sugar level dropping. Wearing his signature bandana and cowboy hat, he ran onto stage with his adrenaline began pumping fast, which caused his blood sugar level to drop even faster (Diabetes & Partying 121). Since the show at MSG was one of his first big shows, Michaels had not realized how much physical activity a performance required or how it would affect his blood sugar level.

He later explained, “Then it came out in the paper, ‘Bret Michaels is a heroin junky,’ was what they thought.  That’s when I made my big announcement. ‘I’m a juvenile diabetic, I’m not a junky and this is what happened.’ That’s not what I wanted my fans to think” (Diabetes & Partying 121). Because he had taken insulin and forgotten to eat, Michaels collapsed due to severe hypoglycemia, which caused him to enter into a diabetic coma. He was so anxious and excited to get on stage to become a rock star that he forgot about the more important aspects of his life, his health and diabetes.

Since his collapse, Bret has made himself and everyone around him more aware of his diabetic conditions. “It’s all about maintaining balance,” Bret explains, “That’s the weirdest thing for a rock star to say: ‘balance’. But as a diabetic rock star, it’s all about balance in my life. For every rose, there’s a thorn: that’s a song we have, and that’s what it is. It’s finding a sense of balance” (Austin).

Bret runs around a lot on stage, so he does not like to eat much before a performance. Since the incident on stage, his band now deliberately built two breaks into the show, a guitar solo and a drum solo, just so Bret can run to the dressing room and check his blood sugar. The stage is also stocked with emergency supplies, Gatorade, orange juice and water for Bret’s use. “If I’m feeling good, I drink water; If I’m feeling a little low – Gatorade; and if I’m starting to feel real low, I go right for the orange juice, which bumps me up pretty quick” (von Wartburg, 39).

In 2007, Vh1 premiered a new reality show called Rock of Love with Bret Michaels, which gave 25 women the chance to win his affection. In the contract for the show, Michaels mandated that the reality show clearly show that he has diabetes. It was very important to him to show that he was able to maintain balance between his rock star lifestyle and his diabetes (von Wartburg, 42). Michaels did not want something to happen during the filming of the show, and everyone again to think he was a junky, simply because he was famous for being a rock-star.

During filming of the TV show, Michaels explained what diabetes was to each of the women. He tested his blood sugar levels and injected insulin in front of them. “It was actually really nice, and it all played into the show,” Michaels excitedly explains (von Wartburg 41). The women on his show were all interested and genuinely concerned about his health condition.

While filming an episode, Michaels started to stuffer from hypoglycemia. He took his insulin and had forgotten to eat before beginning to shoot again. “Right in the middle of it I was having a low blood sugar, and they just kept the cameras rolling, apparently. It was pretty intense for a few minutes,” he later said about the incident (von Wartburg 41). The women, who were on the show at that moment, ran around trying to find him some orange juice to raise his blood sugar. Luckily, some of the women he was dating had read up on diabetes and understood the warning signs. Because of Michaels’ initial conversation with all the women, everyone knew he had diabetes, and had an idea of how to handle it. It is very important for Michaels, and all of those suffering with diabetes, to keep everyone around them informed of their condition.

In 2010, while appearing on The Celebrity Apprentice, Bret Michaels chose the American Diabetes Association (ADA) as his charity of choice. At the same time, his 10-year-old daughter Raine was diagnosed with borderline diabetes.

The reason I lost myself on The Celebrity Apprentice was because she got on the phone and said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to take shots.’ She’s scared to death of shots. And so she was really upset, which made me really upset. In some weird genetic way, I felt that I was to blame and I was very exhausted doing The Celebrity Apprentice so it was kind of a breakdown–it was like the perfect storm that happened to me when I lost it that day. I was tired, I was hungry, my daughter was now diagnosed with borderline diabetes and then her crying on the phone about taking shots–as a parent it was extremely a very painful day (Assimon). Since then, Michaels has raised more the $640,000 for the Association and has helped to raise critical awareness of diabetes. He wants to show 57 million people with borderline, or pre-diabetes, the importance of preventing Type 2 diabetes and managing Type 1. “Those with have pre-diabetes have blood glucose levels that are higher then normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes” (“Nearly Million People”). He hopes his efforts will find advancements and help prevent his daughter’s borderline diabetes to progress.

Michaels has continued to work with The American Diabetes Association and its volunteers and staff across the country throughout his tours. “His passion and commitment to the cause and to our movement to Stop Diabetes is crucial in helping us change the future of this deadly disease,” said Larry Hausner, CEO of American Diabetes Association. A lot of responsibility comes with being a diabetic, and even more so as a parent of a borderline diabetic. “That’s what I raise a lot of money for, that’s what the ADA and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation are there for. Find a support group and get involved immediately” (Assimon). Michaels hopes that parents of Type 1 diabetics will follow in his footsteps, join him, or join some sort of organization to help find a better way to manage diabetes, and possibly to find a cure.

Michaels continues to work with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in raising funds for research, and awareness about diabetes. Using funds raised by ADA and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and other similar organizations, advancements have been made in diabetes technology. The CGM, or continuous glucose monitoring system, is a great advancement in technology. The CGM displays graphs and tells you when your blood sugar level is beginning to drop or rise drastically.

It is speculated that within the next decade, meters will be replaced with Continuous Glucose Meters (CGM). These machines will likely decrease complications found in people with diabetes by limiting problems associated with hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. There are only few products on the market at this time, but they have already been proven to lower A1c results and standardize blood sugar levels (Huang 1269). Newer CGM technology has the potential to overcome challenges diabetics face every day and increase the likelihood that patients with diabetes can achieve and maintain optimal glucose control by giving them approximate glucose readings every 5 minutes (Huang 1271). The CGM machine show graphs, blood sugar readings, and has arrows that point to which direction blood sugar levels are heading. It reads from a small sensor attached to the body. Real-time continuous glucose monitors have been found to improve glycemic control in Type 1 diabetes in recent trials.

The insulin pump has also made life much easier for Type 1 diabetics. Though pumps differ by the companies that make them, most insulin pumps look like a beeper, and the device can be attached to the side of a diabetic’s pants. The pump is continuously giving insulin, and it has a small tube that sticks to stomach or fatty tissue area. Michaels refuses to get an insulin pump because he is scared to drop it or lose it during one of his shows. He also doesn’t want the wires to stick out from under his shirt. For the moment, Michaels continues to give himself roughly 4-6 shots of insulin per day (von Wartburg). He has said if a company where ever to come out with a wireless insulin pump, he would think about changing his mind.

Inslulet is the company that makes the OmniPod Insulin Pump, which I currently use. There is two parts of the device that communicate wirelessly; the Pod and the PDM (personal diabetes manager). The waterproof pod drips insulin into the bloodstream and attaches to the skin. By using the PDM, diabetics control how much insulin they receive before eating, suspend the amount of insulin they receive each hour if their blood sugar levels are low, check insulin history and check their blood sugar levels. Nick Jonas, a type 1 diabetic and member of the Jonas Brothers, is a big advocator for OmniPod Insulin Pump (Cotliar). He absolutely loves it, and has even showed it off on stage to his screaming fans. “I want people to know I am not going to let this slow me down,” Jonas explains (Cotliar). Michaels and Jonas share the idea that diabetes is something that they need to deal with, and they refuse to allow it to hold them back from achieving their goals or living a close to normal life.

It is unclear why Michaels has not yet followed other celebrity diabetics and gotten himself on the OmniPod, but it is understandable why he would not want to. The Pod itself is quite large, and can been seen under tight clothing. Michaels may be insecure about his looks with OmniPod, and him not wanting to change his “sexy” look. He would have to keep his shirt on, and his clothing would need to become looser so the pod could not be seen. If Michaels were to choose to go on an insulin pump, he would not lose his signature bandana and cowboy hat or any part of his personality. His life could be much easier, but ultimately it is his life and his choice.

Bret Michaels sincerely believes that the cure for diabetes is going to be discovered. “I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, and I’m starting to see some of the effects a little more as I get older, and I just pray that there’s a cure. I work hard to find a cure, and yes, I tell myself, yes, there will be a cure” (Assimon). While joining with the American Diabetes Association in their movement to Stop Diabetes, Michaels currently serves as the “Face of Diabetes.” Michaels is creating awareness with various activities and a public service announcement campaign to raise money for diabetes research, which he helped to produce (“Nearly Million People”).

Life as a diabetic is like a rollercoaster ride. Highs and lows happen, and doing the best to control them is the only way diabetics can function in life. Michaels explains, “If I sat around thinking about everything I’ve been through, I’d never leave the hospital! They say rock ‘n’ roll ruins your life, but for me, it keep me young at heart and saved me” (Drew 74). The truth is, many diabetics feel this way. We may not have planned this lifestyle for ourselves, but when we have a perfectly controlled day, it feels like a huge accomplishment.

Works Cited

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