A disparate burden

Genes, culture and the challenge of prevention

Mary Beth Gardiner
Published: July, 2003

Ron Reid (foreground), a former diabetes educator who also has type 1 diabetes, poses in front of the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center in Nashville, Tenn., with Project REACH co-workers in this 2003 photo. From left behind stair rail are Tarese Gardner, Atha Jackson, Linda McClellan (project director) and Dayo Bailey. Seated on stairs are Tunu Kinebrew, Stephanie Hill, Bola Teyinka, Consuela Greene and William Owens (a patient in the program). Standing on stairs are Dorlisa Smikes and Deborah Carpenter.
Photo by Dean Dixon
When 19-year-old Ron Reid carried himself to the doctor’s office he knew something was seriously wrong. It took his falling into a hyperglycemia-induced coma, however, before the problem was nailed as diabetes.

The week or two before that day, Reid had been feeling pretty bad. Normally active and athletic, he was dragging, his glands swollen and his vision blurred. He battled cottonmouth, awaking each morning with a thickly coated tongue. An unusual craving for Butterfinger candy bars had him baffled. “I had never had a taste for sweets, even as a kid,” he says.

Scared and fearing the worst—it was the early ‘90s and AIDS was escalating—he finally headed to a clinic. As the staff plied him with juice, chocolate milk, and soda pop to quench his bottomless thirst, he made trip after trip to the restroom, what seemed to Reid “every three seconds.” When he began vomiting, the fruity alcoholic odor raised suspicious eyebrows. “They thought I was drunk,” Reid laughs. As they continued trying to make him comfortable, Reid lapsed into a coma. Finally, they checked his blood glucose level. It measured a whopping 1,244 milligrams per deciliter of blood, over 10 times the normal value.

Now in his 30s, Reid is a consultant to the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center in Nashville, Tenn. The former diabetes educator remains committed to helping others in his community who are disproportionately at risk, not only for developing diabetes but also for the long-term complications that come with advanced disease.

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