Officials with TMF Health Quality Institute, an Austin-based organization that helps health care providers improve patient care, were in Tyler Friday promoting a new program to stem complications from diabetes in African Americans. Tyler native and NFL Hall of Famer Earl Campbell, along with his eldest brother Willie, are spokesmen for the project.
The organization rolled out Health for Life/Everyone With Diabetes Counts, to a small audience at the Tyler Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The program partners with local agencies to provide educational resources for people living with diabetes.
“Our whole aim with this project is to try to encourage people to come to free, accessible diabetes self-management education programs,” program manager Brenda Ortiz said.
“We know within the African-American community there’s a great impact from diabetes and its complications. We see it every day. We see it when we pass dialysis centers — we see the impacts of kidney failure, amputations, cardiovascular disease. Our project is all about trying to prevent those complications.”
The group was contracted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to conduct a two-year program to help reduce the costs of diabetes in African Americans in 27 East Texas counties.
African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed and die from the disease and experience more complications than non-Hispanic whites.
One in four, or 25 percent, of African Americans between the ages 65 and 74 have diabetes, according to the National Medical Association.
CLOSE TO HOME
Earl Campbell welcomed the opportunity to speak about diabetes, which has been prevalent in his family. His mother and four of his 10 siblings developed the disease.
“Diabetes has affected my family, so when they approached me in Austin about being a spokesperson for the diabetes foundation I thought it would be an honor,” he said. “I thought it was a chance to give something back to life because I know I take a lot from life … I’ve been very, very blessed.”
He wanted his brother to join him in the campaign because he knew firsthand about the effects of diabetes.
Willie Campbell, 67, said it took him about three weeks to get to the doctor after he began exhibiting symptoms of diabetes, which included fatigue and frequent urination. He’s been living with the disease for 15 years.
“It got so bad that I could leave my house, I’d get off of (Highway) 110 and I had to stop and use the restroom,” he said.
Willie Campbell’s right leg has been amputated below the knee, and eight weeks ago, he fell into a diabetic coma. He said he became dangerously ill because he didn’t tell an attending emergency room physician he saw for a leg injury that he had diabetes. He warned people to share their health condition with doctors, family and friends.
“It is so dangerous to live not letting people know what you have,” he said. “I should have told him that I was a diabetic, otherwise he wouldn’t have prescribed the medicine that he did.”
He also noted, “If you’re a diabetic and you don’t have a bracelet or a necklace, you’re living dangerously. If you have a wreck, you’re alone, something happens to you, the paramedics will know how to treat you if you have identification on you.”
Willie Campbell said while getting the diagnosis is disheartening, people can easily manage the disease if they follow doctors’ orders and make some lifestyle changes.
He once weighed 285 pounds but is now an ideal size. He said he learned the proper way to eat, which includes having smaller portions and frequent meals.
He tests his blood sugar four times each day and never leaves home without his glucometer. He said people with diabetes have to make a conscious decision to fight the disease.
“It’s hard to do it, but once you get in a trend of doing it, it’s nothing,” he said. “This will kill you if you don’t take care of yourself.”