By Paris Goodnight
“Mr. Diabetes” made a stroll through downtown Salisbury on Thursday as part of the “Wake Up and Walk Tour” that’s taken him all around the country.
Andy Mandell is making a loop that started in Florida and will end there as he completes the 10,000-mile trek to raise awareness about diabetes, whichis now the fourth-leading killer in the United States.
Mandell, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 1985, is documenting all the activity on www.defeatdiabetes.org, which includes photos that he and tour manager Russ Barriger snap along the way. Barriger and his wife, Shirley, act as tour managers and Russ was traveling along in a van for support Thursday.
They’re part of a Madeira, Fla.-nonprofit foundation that is trying to highlight facts about diabetes, a largely preventable disease. The Web site notes an estimated 21 million Americans have diabetes now, but up to half of those don’t know it.
“More will develop it without more oversight to prevent it,” he said.
The worst effects of the disease can be prevented if it’s caught soon enough. That’s why they include a self-test on the Web site for you to answer health questions such as how often you need to urinate, how much water you drink, whether you’re overweight and whether you’ve suffered from blurred vision.
While he walks through populated areas, Mandell hands out pamphlets with the same questions. He urges people who score poorly on the test to see a doctor, an endocrinologist if possible.
The Boston native, who had surgery on both eyes in 2001, also spends a lot of time on the phone or talking to members of the media to help get the word out into communities. He said that’s part of a grassroots effort to spread knowledge about the disease to those who might not be hearing or reading about it otherwise. He has meetings set up for next week with mayors in Lexington and Kannapolis to help the cause, and he’s trying to get something scheduled with Salisbury’s mayor.
“We’re very flexible on scheduling,” he said, noting that he’ll talk as long as people want along his journey south.
Mandell, 62, has completed his 30th state on the tour and put about 8,300 miles behind him so far. He carries a walking stick for extra support because of the troubles diabetes gives him with his eyes and maintaining balance.
“I was in bed for a couple years with it. I thought a was checking out, but I wasn’t,” he said.
And as he got over that stage of the disease, he got mad at how the money-driven health care system works. “Diabetes is responsible for $225 billion a year,” he said. “And the numbers keep going up.”
He noted that 77 new medications are in the pipeline to battle the disease, but not enough is being done to prevent it.
“I’m not getting rich doing this,” he said at a stop outside Spanky’s at the corner of Innes and Main streets. His advice, especially to those with profiles that fit people susceptible to diabetes: “Be responsible for yourself. Don’t look for a cure because it’s not coming.”
After he completes the walk, he said, his next efforts will involve martial arts schools nationwide to try to get children thinking about not only diabetes but also how healthy diets and exercise can stave off many health problems.
For more complete details on diabetes and the tour, visit www.defeatdiabetes.org.Contact Paris Goodnight at 704-797-4255 or pgoodnight@ salisburypost.com.
By Paris Goodnight