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Over 40,000 Guamanians living with diabetes

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by Heather Hauswirth

Guam - The island recently had some visitors from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center talk about diabetes. It's a disease that affects millions of people around the world. 

For more than twenty years Carl Butler has been living with diabetes - a disease that affects 17 million people nationwide and 40,000 people on Guam.  He said the conditions include, "Being tired, thirsty; not feeling as active as I usually am." Butler helped found the Guam Diabetes Association, which meets at Catholic Social Services every second Tuesday of the month. He says he had to make a number of changes to his lifestyle after his diagnosis from becoming more active to making healthier food choices. 

He continued, "I've cut down and I've tried to make better choices. Here in Guam, I think one thing people like to do is eat spam and corned beef, and that's 90% fat, so that's something to avoid if you can cut down."

This past week a series of workshops focused on the chronic care model and how people can improve managing their diabetes and how health care practitioners and medical personnel alike can improve how they administer care. General Gale Pollock is the executive director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration at Pitt facility, and was one of the primary lecturers at the conference who said there is a need on Guam to increase awareness.

"Certainly we were stunned to learn how many dialysis beds that you have here in Guam, because remember you have about 124 or 125 running three shifts, seven days a week is an incredible demand," she said.  "And it's not high-quality life when you succumb to that kind of renal disease."

One of General Pollock's main concerns is the repercussions of unmanaged diabetes - particularly with vision impairments in the long-term if left untreated.  "Another complication, which is why I'm involved from the perspective of the Vision Restoration Center, is that you get changes in your eyes and it is called 'diabetic retinopathy' and once it sets in it will progress to blindness."

Those in the diabetic community understand the risks of diabetes, but what has become an increasing concern is that among the age group of 30-39 diabetes has grown by 70%, which is significant because this is the age group of the bulk of the mainland's workforce. The disease causes lower productivity levels, which can lead to difficulty providing financial support if a diabetic is the bread winner in the family.

Locally, providers are seeing residents in the same age bracket and even those in their mid- and late-20's are having limbs amputated, and the onset of blindness and heart disease. The more those with and without diabetes can learn to promote leading a healthier lifestyle, the better.

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