His Diabetes Journey Took Him Farther Than He Ever Expected

You may have heard of Andy Mandell. In 2002 he launched the Wake Up and Walk Tour, a 10,000-plus-mile walk around the perimeter of the United States, which he expects to finish in December 2008. During his 10-mile-a-day walks (with seasonal breaks), he hands out brochures to promote diabetes prevention. But Mandell's personal journey started much earlier—when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 44 in 1985. Mandell kept his diagnosis a secret from his family for two years, because he feared their nagging, and went through a serious health crisis due to diabetes-related complications. Now the former real estate agent just wants to spread the word to others. Mandell estimates that 69,000 people have heard his message during his walks in the past six years.

Newer types of insulin allowed Andy to reduce his number of daily injections.
Diabetes has been in my family for generations. But frankly, by the time I was in my 20s, I was sick of hearing about it. It was always, "Dont do this, youre going to be diabetic; dont do that, youre going to be like your grandparents." So I made a deal with my mother—I'd see a doctor about it when I turned 40, but until then she had to stop nagging me.

Well, she held me to the bargain. When I was in my early 40s, I didnt even have a doctor to see, so she sent me to hers. It was 1985 and I felt just fine.

After my appointment, they called me back for a follow-up exam. The doctor said, "Andy, guess what? Youre diabetic." I couldn't believe it. I was a pudgy kid, but in my teens I had thinned out. I wasn't an athlete, but I exercised. I could easily knock off 100 push-ups and barely break a sweat. It just didnt seem real. Did I tell my family? No way. I couldn't bear to hear the "I told you sos," and I kept the diagnosis to myself for two years.

The wrong treatment, then no treatment
My doctor did set me up with a nutritionist, who gave me some suggestions on how to change my diet. But mostly the recommendation seemed to be to look at food labels and avoid them if any of the first three ingredients was sugar in any form. It was easy enough to do, so that's what I did. But it turned out that it wasnt the right thing to do.

About two years after my diagnosis, a woman in my karate class who was a nurse and type 1 diabetic told me she didnt think I was getting the right type of treatment. I started to see her doctor, who was an endocrinologist. The difference was like night and day.

He immediately put me on oral medications, and I had all kinds of tests for my eyes, kidney function, and cholesterol. I went through some highs and lows with my new medication, but I had improved hemoglobin A1c readings, which I had never even heard of before. It was all new to me, but I felt very secure and comfortable.

Then around 1989, I lost my job and my insurance. I was on COBRA, a health-insurance extension that covers you for up to 18 months after you leave a position and before you find another job with health insurance. Anyway, in my world, that [new job] didnt happen. Through some mix-up I did have a two-year supply of Glucotrol tablets, but I wasnt seeing my doctor. And the finger sticks, the glucose monitors all seemed so expensive. I started testing my blood sugar less and less. I thought, Im doing all right, I'm eating well, exercising, and taking Glucotrol. But I was on my own.

123 Next
As told to: Claire Stanford
Last Updated: September 05, 2008

Get the latest health, fitness, anti-aging, and nutrition news, plus special offers, insights and updates from Health.com!

More Ways to Connect with Health