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Actress Della Reese Reveals Her Struggle With Diabetes

Aired October 13, 2003 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive, Della Reese talks for the first time about her personal battle with the disease that nearly killed her. We'll also hear from Dr. Andrew Weil, the best-selling expert on alternative medicine, as Della Reese of "Touched By an Angel" makes a special announcement here for the first time about an illness that affects millions, And almost took her life. It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Later, Dr. Andrew Weil will join us. And in the last half hour, Jerry Mathers -- you remember him from "Leave It to Beaver" -- and the wonderful actor Wilford Brimley and John Ratzenberger of will all join us.

But we start with Della Reese, the famed actress and singer, probably best known for co-starring in the TV series "Touched By an Angel," which ran for 10 years, and is announcing for the first time tonight that you have...

DELLA REESE, ACTRESS: No, I don't have it. It has me. I don't -- I don't have it. If I had it, I'd just lay it down.

KING: What has you?

REESE: We're talking about type 2 diabetes.

KING: You have type 2. That's not juvenile.

REESE: No, that's adult.

KING: That's adult onset.

KING: Yes.

KING: How was it discovered?

REESE: Well, I was coming -- I was doing "Touched By an Angel." I'm coming down the stairs. I had a two-story house in Salt Lake City. And in the middle of the stairs, my head just seemed like it would separate, and then I had to sit down on the steps. I don't know how long I sat there, don't remember anything that happened while I was sitting there. And then I was OK. Just as quickly as it happened, I was OK.

KING: Like a spell.

REESE: Yes. So I got up and I went to work. I was conducting the choir. Wynonna Judd was singing...

KING: Not bad.

REESE: ... and I was the choirmistress and I was conducting the choir. I heard the director say, Action, and I didn't hear anything else. I don't know what happened in that scene. And I heard him say, Cut. And it was an outdoor shot, and I felt kind of dizzy and I was trying -- I saw a fence. I was trying to make it over to the fence. And the director saw me, like, kind of staggering, trying to get over there. He called the doctor to the set. And they examined me, sent me home to Cedars. And they discovered that I had type 2 diabetes.

KING: And that occurrence you were having was, what, a low blood attack? You needed sugar at that point?

REESE: I have no idea because I had no -- see, that's -- that's why, Larry, it's so dangerous. That day, I felt wonderful. Nothing was wrong with me. I didn't have a headache. I don't even have headaches. So when it happened, I didn't know what it was.

KING: I have type 2, and I discovered it in a blood test. I never got a symptom.


KING: But what'll happen is, sometimes you do get a little dizzy...

REESE: Sometimes you do.

KING: ... when you get low. They give you orange juice or something.

REESE: Yes. Yes. But I didn't have any idea. And then the other thing was that when I found out what it was -- everything I knew about it was negative. I knew that Ella Fitzgerald lost her legs and she died.

KING: Jackie Robinson.

REESE: Mabel King (ph)...

KING: Wow.

REESE: Yes. And my mentor, Mahalia Jackson, died of it. So now all I know is that I must going to have to die from this. You know what I mean? I finally got something.

KING: But type 2, if you're going to have one or the other, it's better to have type 2 than juvenile.

REESE: Absolutely. Absolutely. But better not have it all.

KING: Did they put you on medication right...

REESE: Yes, they did. They put me on medication. And one of the things, because of the medication, is that I started working for Glaxo Smith and Kline, who make Evandia (ph), which is a medication that helps your body...

KING: And you speak for them right?

REESE: ... yes, use the insulin that you make.

KING: Yes. So you don't need insulin shots.

REESE: No, I don't need shots because I caught it in time and I'm working with it. I've also worked with them to get a plan, a maintenance plan. When I was diagnosed, my blood sugar was 275 to 350, 400.

KING: You're kidding?

REESE: No, I'm so serious. And so I started getting information. I started asking my doctor, What can I do about this? He gave me a maintenance plan. He put me On Evandia before I started working with him. He put me on this medication. He told me I had to lose some weight, so I lost about -- I must have lost 30 pounds by now because when he told me, I started losing weight immediately. I don't mean I went on a diet.

KING: That's one of the keys, though.

REESE: I started eating correctly, losing weight. And I started taking my medicine. That's another thing that will get to your body. You don't feel bad. See, if you have a pain, you know you should take your pain pill.

KING: Diabetes gives you no indication.

REESE: Nothing. It's a silent killer. And so I want to be able -- I made a -- they've made a brochure for me where I tell you what I have done, how I worked with it. I give you some recipes. I love to eat, but I've learned how to eat better, you see?

KING: It's a question of managing it, right?

REESE: Absolutely. It's really, for me, is, Do you want another piece of fried chicken or do you want to keep your legs?

KING: Do we know how many people have it?

REESE: Well, 16 million people have what they call insulin resistance, 60 million people have it, but 16 million are definitely going to have to deal with type 2 diabetes.

KING: That's an awful high reading.

REESE: That's very big.

KING: I've heard of higher readings than that.

REESE: But -- and it's getting worse. The children, see, are getting it now, the children, obese children.

KING: They're getting type 2?

REESE: Absolutely. They're obese. They're eating all the wrong foods and things. And so it's really like the plague, so to speak, the way it's closing in on us.

KING: So you are -- we cleared it up, you're a paid spokesman for educational campaign, "Della Reese, Stronger Than Diabetes," by Glaxo Smith...


KING: ... for that drug that you use.

REESE: Yes. Has it changed your life in other ways at all?

REESE: Well, it's made me -- see, I had one of those bodies that I never had to do anything to it -- you know...

KING: You didn't...

REESE: ... put some lipstick on it and a little eyeliner. I didn't have to do anything to it. I was blessed that way. So I never exercised. I ate whatever I wanted to eat whenever I wanted to eat it, you know, and there was no repercussions. Now I know -- like, for an example, one of the reasons I wanted to be rich was so I could have ice cream every night before I went to bed. I mean, that's when you really got money, when you can have ice cream...

KING: You're not kidding.

REESE: ... every night when you go to bed.

KING: Your choice of flavors, you're it.

REESE: Butter pecan. You understand what I'm saying?

KING: Yes.

REESE: That's what I really love. So I had to come to a -- change my mind, change my life, had to come to an understanding that it's not that I'll never have another dip of ice cream, but I cannot have it every night when I go to bed.

KING: Was it difficult to go public? Is this difficult for you?

REESE: No, it wasn't because I have fans that grew up with me. I have their children and their children's children. They've done everything for me all of my life. This is something I can do to pay back. I don't want to just help the lady who lives next door. I could walk over there and do that. See, but Glaxo Smith Kline has enough money to put me...


KING: ... a little money.

REESE: ... put me on the brochure...


REESE: ... take me all over the country to speak to people. And I'm hoping that my record as a human being will make people say, Well, if Della can do it, I can do it.

KING: And the thing to do -- everyone should get a blood test, right?

REESE: Absolutely.

KING: Have your blood tested...

REESE: Absolutely.

KING: ... and that'll tell you.

REESE: Absolutely. That's why I'm...

KING: A simple test, painless.

REESE: Absolutely. And you should be -- people of our age bracket should become consciously aware of their bodies. We come from a very -- our age bracket comes from very healthy people. We didn't go to the doctor three times a year. If something happened, you know, you took some castor oil or Sloane's (ph) liniment...


REESE: ... and kept on trucking.

KING: Mustard plaster.

REESE: Absolutely.


REESE: Absolutely. We've got to learn -- and another thing is, we -- if something goes wrong when you're 72, you say, Well, that's just because I'm old. Well, that's not necessarily so. You see...

KING: And 72 ain't old anymore.

REESE: No. It's not necessarily so. So you need to know to take care of your body.

KING: We'll take a break, be back with more of Della Reese, then Dr. Weil and then our panel on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE with Della Reese, the actress and singer, who's revealing tonight that she's a victim of -- well, I guess you'd call it...

REESE: That's right.

KING: ... type 2 diabetes. I have type 2 diabetes. Millions of Americans have -- you can definitely live with it. It's definitely controllable. I use a different drug. Della uses Evandia. And she is a paid spokesperson for the educational campaign "Della Reese, Stronger Than Diabetes," sponsored by Glaxo Smith Kline. What does Evandia do?

REESE: It makes your body respond to the insulin that you make.


REESE: You see, it...


KING: ... makes insulin from...

REESE: But this -- this makes your body respond and use the insulin that you're making because when your blood sugar levels -- your sugar doesn't go into your cells, you see, for energy and for storage, then the sugar level gets higher and higher. And the higher the level, the more terrible the type 2.

KING: One of the weird things about diabetes is you hear about it, you know you have it, but it's hard to panic because you don't have any symptoms...

REESE: That's right.

KING: ... unless you get low blood sugar.

REESE: That's what I meant before when I said to you...

KING: You don't have any symptoms.

REESE: ... if you got a pain, you know you should take a pain pill.

KING: Yes.

REESE: But this -- in fact, you wake up some days and you feel so good, Well, why do I need the pill? That's the day you need to most of all. You need to take it every day. You need to realize that this is something you do like you brush your teeth every day.

KING: What don't you eat?

REESE: I eat just about everything I want to eat, but I don't eat it like I used to eat it, see? My mother came from Tennessee, and so chicken was fried in deep fat. KING: No kidding.

REESE: That was it. There was just -- there wasn't no discussion. It just was. I like chicken, but I've learned now how to season the chicken and to bake it and make it taste like really, really good without all the fat and everything.

KING: How much sugar have you cut out?

REESE: I've cut out about all of it, just about -- my thing is, if I really love it, I shouldn't have it.

KING: Bread. Do you eat a lot of bread?

REESE: No, I don't.

KING: Bread's bad.

REESE: No, I don't eat a lot of bread.

KING: No sugar and...

REESE: I don't eat a lot of bread, and I don't...

KING: But fruit you can eat.

REESE: I do eat fruit. I love vegetables, but I don't like them when they taste like water, so I've got seasonings for that. I don't eat red meat. I have not eaten it for 25 years.

KING: That's good.

REESE: And I don't miss it. I...

KING: But you need some protein.

REESE: I have never missed it at all. But I work with myself. My point is, I manage the diabetes, the diabetes doesn't manage me. I'm stronger than that.

KING: Is your life expectancy less? Do you know?

REESE: I don't accept that. Now, medically, somebody might tell you that's true, but I don't accept that.

KING: Just don't accept it.

REESE: I just don't accept that. I feel I have 30 more years to live. And I'm fighting now for the quality of my life, you see, and I'm serious about the war.

KING: The war?

REESE: Yes, on this thing that's attacking my body. I'm serious about it. When I first started, my blood sugar was 275 to 375 to 400. This morning, it was 87. KING: That's because you're controlling your diabetes.

REESE: Absolutely. I'm stronger than this. I'm not going to feel sorry for myself. I'm not going to go, Poor me, one time because I can handle this.

KING: Do you get...

REESE: And that's what I want people to know. You can do something about this. You can -- because if you think something, it's so for you. And when I first started with this, all -- everything I knew was a negative thing.

KING: Do you get the moments where you get dizzy, where you get...

REESE: No, I don't get nothing!

KING: You don't have at all?

REESE: I don't get anything.

KING: Oh, I get some of those.

REESE: That's why it's called a silent killer. I don't get anything. I don't get anything.

KING: So it's very hard, like, to go into depression over type 2 because there's nothing -- you know, it's not a death sentence. It's not cancer.

REESE: There are some people -- that's right. There are some people who do have symptoms. They cut their hand, it doesn't heal quickly.

KING: Don't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) heal slowly?



REESE: But what I do is...

KING: If I cut myself shaving, it takes an hour.

REESE: But I don't shave.


KING: Oh, that's a good point.

REESE: And when I cook, I cut things on the board. I don't cut them in my hand. You see, the little -- I'm saying this in humor, but it's little adjustments.

KING: And there's a connection between it and heart disease. REESE: Absolutely. And stroke and kidney problems and bladder problems.

KING: Boy, this is joyful, isn't it.

REESE: It's thrilling, you know? But as I say, once you realize that, and you realize that just -- for an example, if -- I love butter pecan ice cream, but I have had enough butter pecan ice cream in 72 years that if I never have another dip in the next 30 years that I'm going to live, I ain't missed a thing.

KING: Butter pecan ice cream is sponsored by diabetic doctors.


KING: What's happening -- before we bring in Dr. Weil and our panel, what's happening in your career?

REESE: Well, I wrote a musical, a spiritual musical, and I put it up. I mounted it twice and got information on it. And now I'm looking for sponsors to...

KING: Do you miss "Touched By an Angel"?

REESE: Well, for a while, I missed Roma because she's like my baby. But she moved...

KING: Yes, I saw her the other day.

REESE: Yes, she moved back to Los Angeles, so I don't -- I saw you see her the other day. I was there, too.

KING: At that dinner.

REESE: Yes, at that dinner. So I don't miss her. I do miss John Dye (ph) a lot, but...

KING: How about the show itself?

REESE: I was ready for that to be over. I worked 10 years straight.

KING: That's a long time.

REESE: Yes. I wanted to do somebody else, be somebody else, you know?

KING: For a long time, that show was CBS's only success.

REESE: That's right.

KING: I remember that.

REESE: That's right.

KING: The only one in the top 20. REESE: That's right. That's right. For years.

KING: How did they cancel you?

REESE: They just said, It's over. There was no sweetness and lovingness and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


REESE: No, they said...

KING: What'd the producer...


KING: ... call everybody together?

REESE: She -- Martha Williamson called the four of us, Valerie (ph) and Roma and John and I, and...

KING: You were all on the show with her.

REESE: Yes. And she said, Well, they're not going to pick it up.

KING: Just like that.

REESE: There it is.

KING: Was there a lot of sadness at the last shooting?

REESE: Well, I don't know because I -- for the shooting, yes, because the crew was marvelous. They were people so wonderful...

KING: Salt Lake City.

REESE: ... they -- Salt Lake City. They didn't work for the check, they worked for the perfection of the show. They would stay as late as they needed to. We would all grumble about that, but it was such a pleasure working with them, they were so wonderful. Now, I do miss seeing them every day. But I was ready to be out of there and be someplace else.

KING: Our guest is the wonderful Della Reese, revealing tonight that she has type 2 diabetes. When we come back, Dr. Andrew Weil will join us and get his thoughts on this, and then a panel will assemble. Don't go away.



KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE with Della Reese, speaking publicly about having type 2 diabetes. And joining us from Tucson, Arizona, is the famed Dr. Andrew Weil, a frequent guest on this program, "New York Times" best-selling author, renowned expert on integrative and alternative medicine. His books include "The Healthy Kitchen: Recipes for Better Body, Life and Spirit," co-authored with Oprah Winfrey's former personal chef, Rosie Dailey (ph).

Dr. Weil has a Web site, We understand on that Web site, you have special information about diabetes, right?

DR. ANDREW WEIL, AUTHOR, "THE HEALTHY KITCHEN": Yes, we've just put up a number of articles about type 2 diabetes. When you go to the Web site, there's a button that says "Click here for information about diabetes," and you'll find a great deal about the diet to follow, the importance of exercise and natural remedies that can help control this disease, as well.

KING: There are natural remedies?

WEIL: There are a number of supplements that can be very useful in increasing insulin sensitivity, among them chromium. Also a supplement called alphalipoic (ph) acid, which is very useful and can help prevent some of the complications of diabetes. And there are a number of herbs used around the world to control high blood sugar. One of them very common is the prickly pear cactus. Hundreds of thousands...

KING: He knows everything, this guy.

WEIL: ... hundreds of thousands of...

KING: You ought to send some to Della.

WEIL: ... Mexicans use it -- Yes.

KING: All right, type -- it's called adult onset. Does that mean children don't have it?

WEIL: We can't call it that anymore, Larry, because we're seeing this disease diagnosed in younger and younger kids. And it's following the obesity epidemic in America. The youngest I've seen this diagnosed is age 7 in a native American child here in Arizona.

KING: Wow.

WEIL: We have to call this now type 2 diabetes, maybe teenage onset diabetes. And one of the most alarming things about this disease is that it's becoming epidemic. And the age is dropping precipitously. As I say, it's tracking the obesity epidemic and clearly is related to changes in eating habits and lack of exercise in our population.

KING: And 6.2 percent of the population has it. Is Della's story pretty routine?

WEIL: It is. And I think the -- you know, a question to ask why is this disease so common because it's genetically controlled. There's a strong inherited factor here. And I think the answer is that, at some time in the past, it was an advantage to have these genes. They've sometimes been called "thrifty genes." They enable us to store up caloric energy when available. So when human beings were living near starvation or had feast-and-famine kind of eating, it was an advantage to be a type 2 diabetic. Now, with food available all the time, and especially with modern food technology that has made carbohydrate foods especially very fast digesting, those genes work against us. So the problem is the discrepancy between a certain inherited pattern and the way we've changed the environment.

KING: Did you have it in your family, Della?


KING: No one you can remember, mother, father...

REESE: No one that I know about. No.

KING: Sister, aunt?

REESE: Nobody that I know about.

KING: But you say it's genetically disposed, right, Dr. Weil?

WEIL: Absolutely. And also, there are lesser degrees of this that are much more common.

KING: So there may have been people in -- there may have been people in Della's family who had it and never knew it. And as I say...


WEIL: Very possible. Also, people that tend to have gained weight easily in the abdomen, who have a tendency toward high blood pressure, who have high serum triglycerides, blood fats, who have low HDL cholesterol -- these are all markers of this genetic constitution which predisposes to type 2 diabetes, if you don't exercise, if you eat the wrong foods.

KING: Now, type 1 is more dangerous, right?

WEIL: Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the insulin- producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed. And this often starts very suddenly, with dramatic symptoms -- a sudden loss of weight, greatly increased thirst and hunger. It usually comes to medical attention very quickly. It is more difficult to control. It requires insulin. It is much less common than type 2 diabetes.

KING: Can type 2 diabetes end your life?

WEIL: Yes. Any form of diabetes is associated with a shortened lifespan if it's out of control. The reason is that other diseases are accelerated with diabetes, in particular, cardiovascular disease. So atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease all occur at a faster rate. And that's why it's most important to get this disease under control. But as Della has found, it is not that hard to control it. It can be controlled with medication. But an enormous percentage of people with this disease can control it without medication or get off of medication just by adjusting lifestyle.

KING: How drastically have you changed your lifestyle, Della?

REESE: As I said to you before, what I -- how I eat, I've changed that. I never exercised at all. Now I do exercise. I have a stationary bike, and it's recommended that I do a half an hour on that bike. As of yet, I have never done a continuous half an hour. But I don't stop until I have done a half an hour. I'll do 10, 15 minutes, get off, walk around, do 10, 15 minutes until I've done what I'm supposed to do. I never had problems with getting enough rest. I love to rest. So I do that automatically because I like it so much. I've changed my eating habits. But other than that, I'm living a wonderful life.

KING: Anything's common (ph) attentive to it, Dr. Weil, like headaches or any side things from having it?

WEIL: Well, I think if the disease is controlled, you should be able to live and not even know that you have the disease. And I want to congratulate Della on making those lifestyle changes and also say that exercise is key here. So really keep up your stationary bike, Della. And in addition, be as active as possible because exercise increases your -- the sensitivity of your body to the insulin that you produce. It's most important.

REESE: I'm a valet parking lady. I want to -- I used to drive as close to the door as possible.

WEIL: Yes. Yes.


REESE: Now -- oh, yes! I'm really -- that's who I was, you see. Now I park back over here, and I take that walk. I walk a lot more than I ever did before, you see, because I like to ride, to tell you the truth. I don't care too much for walking.

KING: I walk a lot.

REESE: Well, see, I'm blessing you with that. But I'm working more than I ever did. I do think that -- they make me exercise now more that I never did before.

KING: What is exercise doing to help type 2 diabetes, Doctor?

WEIL: It's increasing sensitivity of cells to insulin, which is necessary to get sugar into cells, where it can be burned as a fuel. And it's really important to get that message across to kids because, for instance, the kids in your family, Della, who may have those genes should be starting early in life to develop good habits of exercise, so they'll avoid the problem.

REESE: Well...

WEIL: And in terms of...

REESE: ... you know, that television, that television that I love, that I make a living on...

WEIL: Yes. Yes.

REESE: ... stops them. They sit there all day. We had to get out of the house and do something. You know, they don't go play in the yard anymore. They don't play baseball anymore. They don't do anything. They just sit there at the computer. It's the computer or the television.

WEIL: Yes. If it's not television, it's computer. If it's not computer, it's cars. There has been a dramatic decrease in activity among our kids. And in terms of diet -- you know, I heard you talking mostly about ice cream and fat. But really, I think the main culprit here are the highly refined carbohydrate foods that we've been producing in recent years. It's all the chips...

KING: Like?

WEIL: It's chips and pretzels and crackers and pizza crusts and fluffy pastries. It's the way we've taken grains and pulverized the starch so that it turns rapidly into blood sugar. It's that kind of junk food, refined and processed foods, that particularly affect this genetic constitution.

KING: Get that carbohydrate -- carbohydrates are a danger, then.

WEIL: They -- certain kinds of -- there are good carbohydrates and there are bad carbohydrates. Beans are good carbohydrates. Winter squashes, sweet potatoes...

KING: Walnuts.

REESE: ... good carbohydrates. Berries, good carbohydrates. But all those refined snack foods, that's really a problem.

KING: Let me get a break and bring the rest of our panel in. Della Reese and Dr. Andrew Weil remain. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - June 23, 2003)

MARY TYLER MOORE, INTL. CHMN, JUVENILE DIABETES FOUNDATION: And I was in the hospital, and they did a routine blood test on me. And the normal range for blood sugar is anywhere from 75 to 110, and mine was 750. In fact, I made it into a medical book not as Mary Tyler Moore but some other name because they couldn't figure out how it is that I was still walking around and functioning at that high a level. They put me on insulin almost immediately. And I've been lucky. I've had a scrape with death a few times and some threats out there, losing a toe, losing my eyesight. Fortunately, neither of those things has happened, but there are compromises.



KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. Our subject tonight is diabetes. With us is Della Reese, speaking for the first time about having it. By the way, Della Reese, you can call 866 Info Diabetes for the Della Diabetes Information Center. 866-Info Diabetes.

Dr. Andrew Weil is in Tucson, Arizona. The "New York Times" best-selling author. He, of course, is associated with the University of Arizona. And is a graduate of Harvard.

Here in L.A., the famous Jerry Mathers, best known star of the best TV sitcom ever "Leave It To Beaver". He's got a Web site, too, He has type II diabetes.

One of my favorites, Wilford Brimley, actor, who also has type II diabetes. He's associated with Liberty Medical. You've seen the commercials, I'm sure. The leading supplier in home delivery of specialty medical supplies including diabetes testing kits.

And in Columbus, Ohio is John Ratzenberger, there's that famous face. John, best known for his role as the know-it-all Cliff Claven on "Cheers." His teenage son has type one diabetes. He's an activist for diabetes awareness and research. He helped build the Web site Jerry, how did you discover you had type two?

MATHERS: You know what, I had done the new "Leave It To Beaver." And I did that from '82 to '89. I thought, I'm going to retire and I'm going to lead the good life. And I thought that was like going out, eating, not getting a whole lot of exercise, kicking back.

KING: Why not?

MATHERS: I put on a lot of weight. I had a very good friend that was a doctor. I'm 55 now. This is about six years ago. He started telling me, you know what, you better come in for a physical. I said, I feel fine. I don't need a physical. He finally cajoled me enough, because he was a friend of mine, I'd see him at parties and things.

I went in there, came back about three days later and he said, how would you like to see your daughters graduate from high school? I said, that would be great. And get married and have grandkids? I said, that would be great. He said if you don't do something about your diabetes, you'll be dead in 3-5 years.

And I went, just like everybody else here's been saying, I thought I was fine. So I started with diet and exercise. Took off the weight. And, you know, I'm controlling it.

The insidious thing about this disease is that it's a back-ended. The quicker you attack it and start to bring your blood sugars down and control it, you'll have a much better quality of life.

KING: Wilford, how did you find out?

BRIMLEY: I got pretty sick.

KING: Really? BRIMLEY: Yes. I monkeyed around. I knew something was wrong. I thought I had cancer. I lost about 25 pounds in three weeks. And I had an unquenchable thirst. My tongue felt like a horseshoe rasp (ph). I couldn't get enough to drink. I would wake up -- well, I never went to sleep, because I would get up and urinate like every 30 minutes during the night. Finally, my son said, look, you know, you're either going to find out what's the matter with you, or I'm going to drag you in there. And I was diagnosed with diabetes.

KING: So you have the severe symptoms right from the get-go?

BRIMLEY: Well, I don't know about the get-go. I mean, I don't know how long I had it.

KING: You weren't introduced through just the normal blood test?

BRIMLEY: Oh, no.

KING: You were a sick person?

BRIMLEY: Oh, yes. I couldn't see.

KING That's common, right, Dr. Weil?

WEIL: Well, this is the form -- do you take insulin, Wilford?

BRIMLEY: I'm on medication. I take Actose (ph).

WEIL: Well, this is the more dramatic onset, which is less common with type two.

KING: Less common with type two?

WEIL: Yes.

KING: But can happen obviously. John Ratzenberger, your teenage son has type one, and that's more dangerous, right?

RATZENBERGER: Correct. He was diagnosed when he was 4 years old, Larry. I just noticed he was drinking a lot, going to the bathroom a lot. And I'd had some exposure to the symptoms from a friend of mine in London. We took him to the doctor.

And the doctor, incidentally, said most children are brought in with a coma. See, it has nothing to do with a sedentary lifestyle. You're just hit with type one. It shuts down all insulin production in your pancreas. In fact, Gary Hall, the Olympic athlete, he was diagnosed with type one. So it has nothing to do with the sedentary lifestyle that type two does.

KING: You don't have diabetes?

RATZENBERGER: I do not, no.

KING: Why is it called juvenile, John. RATZENBERGER: Well, because type one usually strikes children. One out of every 3 children are predisposed to it in the United States. Doesn't mean everyone is going to get it. But mostly children get it.

And the tough part, especially for parents, like I said, my son was four. But we have friends whose children were 18 months old. And what the child doesn't understand is that when you're coming into the room with a syringe to save its life every day, all they can translate is the pain. You get kids not understanding until they're at the age of reason.

So it becomes very -- it's even tough on the parents. So it's really the whole family is involved when a child gets diabetes. But my son is my hero. He's had it for 11 years now. He's a well-honed athlete.

KING: Takes insulin every day?

RATZENBERGER: He has an insulin pump. He has to take insulin every day. Anyone with type one diabetes takes insulin every single day.

KING: Does he ever go into shock?

RATZENBERGER: No, not yet, thank god. No. No. He's pretty well monitored. He's a very focused young man.

KING: Dr. Weil, doesn't type one diabetes indicate a shorter life span?

WEIL: If the disease is well controlled, you can slow down the acceleration of atherosclerosis and the complications that usually shorten life span. The interesting research coming out about type one diabetes, is it, too, may have a dietary connection.

KING: Really.

WEIL Yes. That the introduction of certain kinds of protein in a -- in infants or a young child's diet, at a certain critical period, either too soon or too late, may trigger the autoimmune reaction in genetically susceptible people.

KING: What about...

WEIL: Cow's milk and wheat protein have been particularly suspect. So maybe one day we'll be able to identify these things. If a child is born with this genetic constitution, we may be able to prevent the onset of this disease.

KING: Because I've learned that researchers at the University of Colorado, through the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes found that the age matters when introducing cereal to children.

WEIL: Exactly. So it's the protein in these grains. But we don't know exactly when this critical period is. But this looks to me like a promising line of research.

KING: Della, does all this scare you?

REESE: Not anymore. It did scare me. Because all my information was negative. You see, everything -- it just seemed...

KING: The word is.

REESE: It just seemed like I had discovered the way I had to die.

KING: Are you scared?

MATHERS: You know, I definitely was scared. But I knew that if I did certain things, and took certain steps, that I could definitely prolong my life and make it a lot better.

KING: Do you test yourself every day, Wilford?

BRIMLEY About four times.

KING: Just a little blood prick? And what do you do if the readings high?

BRIMLEY: Well, if the reading is high, I maybe go for a little walk.

KING: It will send it down?

BRIMLEY: Oh, yes.

KING: It's amazing. We'll be right back with more of our panel. The subject is diabetes. Don't go away.


MARY TYLER MOORE, ACTRESS: When you think that 35 to 40 years ago, they were thinking of diabetes as a kind of mental illness, especially when evidenced by low blood sugar, which leaves you very strange feeling, and unable to function, they were just putting people into mental hospitals. We've come a long way.



KING: How important, doctor, is it to test?

WEIL: I think, of course, it's important to test. I don't, you know, with some people, once they get it under control, I don't think you have to be compulsive about that. But at the beginning, while you're learning how to do this, unless you have a good sense of what it feels like when your sugar is off, testing is a good thing. And there are simple ways to do this now.

KING: John, how does your son deal with it every day?

RATZENBERGER: Every day, like I said, Larry, when he was young, we made sure that we never referred to him as diabetic. That's the last thing you want to do with a child. You know, to introduce them as the disease. He's, like I said, I've always told him, he can do anything anybody else can do. You are going to be able to do anything anybody else can do. You'll get married, you'll be an athlete, but you have to deal with this diabetes, unfortunately. And he's done a remarkable job. I just, you know, bless him every day. He's just a great kid.

KING: Like Della, Wilford, do you watch yourself?

BRIMLEY: Watch myself what?

KING: Weight-wise, exercise. You know what I mean.

BRIMLEY: I fight the weight. When I quit smoking cigarettes, I put on 30 pounds. I fight the weight. But I try to watch what I eat. I swim. Two or three times a week.

KING: Good exercise.

BRIMLEY: Yeah, it is for me.

KING: Are you scared by all this?

BRIMLEY: No. It's too late to scare me. I'm scared one of my grandkids will get sick.

KING: What are the odds on that, doctor?

WEIL: Well, Larry, I want to say, you know, that I think the basic message here is that this disease is a chronic disease that can be managed. And I've heard a lot of people talking about that they watch what they eat, but I think that in order to do that right, you've got to get good information. We -- there's a lot of useful information that people with this disease should know, and you're not necessarily going to get it from conventional channels.

For example, the American Diabetes Association, in my opinion, is stuck in the mud. And it's putting out obsolete information about diet. We have a new way of understanding carbohydrate foods called the glycemic index that the American Diabetes Association has refused to accept. Many other countries in the world use this. It's an extremely important concept that rates foods as to how fast they turn into blood sugar. All these people should find out about that, because you want to know which foods, like a puffed rice cake is one of the worst things that you can eat, even though it's nonfat and seems like an austere diet food.

On the other hand, you can eat fruits like blueberries, and you can eat things like sweet potatoes, which some people avoid, and fat may not be as important an issue as understanding these differences in carbohydrate foods.

KING: How about steak?

WEIL: I think that given the fact that people with diabetes are more likely to develop atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease at an accelerated rate, it's a good idea to cut down on meat. So what Della said earlier, she said she hasn't eaten red meat in how many years, Della, 30 years?

REESE: Twenty-five, 25 years.

WEIL: Twenty-five years.


WEIL: I think it doesn't have to be strict vegetarianism. But I think cutting down on animal foods, eating fish, which are the sources of these good fats, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains rather than processed and refined grains. Those are the basics of the diet you want to follow.

KING: Jerry, what don't you eat that you miss?

MATHERS: Licorice.

KING: Oh, licorice. Sweet man.

MATHERS: It's not like a big thing to give up. Actually, no, I don't really like any kind of other, like, chocolates, or anything, but black licorice is my favorite.

KING: There are non-sugar candies, though.

MATHERS: There are, there are, and they're good, too. But you know what? When you think about your life and how important it is to you and your kids and all the people around you, giving up things is not that hard.

REESE: That's the thing. That's the thing. It's not really a big decision.


REESE: It's just -- I love my husband.

KING: Mr. Wilford.

REESE: And I love...


BRIMLEY: I haven't had any red meat in 25 minutes.


REESE: I want to have quality to my life. I want to live as wonderfully as I've been living. And if by giving up a few things and changing my mind about a few things will make me able to do that, then I'm willing to do it.

KING: Anything you have cut out you miss?

BRIMLEY: Yeah. Bread is my -- it's a killer. You know, my mother made bread. I lived on it.

KING: Oh, really?

BRIMLEY: Sure. And bread pudding. And bread and milk. And...

KING: Bread. You were a bred man.

BRIMLEY: I like bread.

KING: And bread turns to sugar, right, doctor?

WEIL: Yes. And the kinds that turn to sugar the fastest are the fluffy kinds, whether they're brown or white. On the other hand, are really dense, chewy piece of bread, a European peasant bread that's got some cracked grains in it, moderate amounts of that may be OK.

KING: How about when I see like six-grain bread. Is that healthy? Or seven-grain. Is seven-grain healthier? Twelve-grain, is that healthier than seven-grain?

WEIL: It really depends on what's been done with those grains. If they've been powdered into starch, no. If there are pieces of the grain in the bread that you can see and you really have to do some work to chew, then OK.

KING: John, does your son have to avoid certain foods?

RATZENBERGER: Oh, sure, yeah, just like the people with type two. You have to have a good diet. But again, type one is a completely different disease almost. And for the best information on this disease is It's the ...

KING: That's your group, right?

RATZENBERGER: Well, I helped them out. Jeff Hitchcock (ph), a fellow, another dad, started the site. And it's now the biggest, the largest in the world.

KING: Let me repeat. I got to take a break. That's all one word. Della Reese's Web site is

REESE: Right.

KING: And we'll be back with some more moments. Don't go away.


KING: Our subject is diabetes. Della Reese coming forward. Dr. Andrew Weil, Jerry Mathers, Wilford Brimley, John Ratzenberger. Will it be cured, Dr. Weil? WEIL: I think type two diabetes can go into complete remission. And that can be done without medication, purely by attending to lifestyle. I've seen many people who have lost weight, started an exercise program, began eating the right kind of diet, and the diabetes has disappeared. So it's in complete remission. It will come back if you gain the weight, stop exercising and eat the wrong foods. So I think it is absolutely possible for type two diabetes to disappear by all clinical measures.

KING: Now, for John Ratzenberger's sake, what about type one?

RATZENBERGER: The best hope for a cure right now is coming out of Miami, from the Diabetes Research Institute out of Miami. We're certainly getting closer. The funding needs to go up, because diabetes, I don't know if you realize it, only gets $47 per patient from the NIH. And it kills four times the amount of people that breast cancer and AIDS combined do. But right now, the best hope for a cure is the Diabetes Research Institute out of Miami.

KING: And Wilford, the Liberty Medical, that's covered by Medicare, right?


KING: In many cases, right?


KING: And they send the supplies right to your house?

BRIMLEY: They do that.

KING: So that you don't even have to go to the store?


KING: And have kits to test yourself.

BRIMLEY: It's a very helpful way to get your supplies, especially if you're an old guy.

KING: Does your Web site deal with it, Jerry?

MATHERS: It talks about it. It talks about my having diabetes and what I've done. But you know, it's a very complicated disease. I mean, you have to carry something around to test yourself with. If you're injectable, you have to carry around the insulin. It has to be kept cold.

KING: That's for type one?

MATHERS: Actually, for type two, too. If a lot of people with type two progress to a point where they do have to take shots.

KING: Insulin, really? MATHERS: Yes, very definitely. So it's a very complicated disease. And that's what people have to understand. The quicker you attack it, the better you can control it.

KING: Like high blood pressure?

REESE: That's my point. That's the point of this brochure I've been telling you about, because there is information in there, new information, things you can do to help yourself. And knowledge is power. Once you know that you can do something about it, and you assert yourself, you are stronger than diabetes.

KING: Dr. Weil sadly you can have it and not know it.

WEIL: Absolutely. And as you said, Larry, many people find that they have this only through a routine blood test that shows an elevated blood sugar level. So it's an important test to get done, especially if there's a history of the disease in your family.

KING: Wilford?

BRIMLEY: I've had it for 25 years. I still got all my fingers, all my toes, I've got 20/20 vision. It's not the worst thing that ever happened to me. On the contrary, I've learned a little bit about self-discipline, which I had nothing whatsoever to do with...

REESE: You and me together.

BRIMLEY: It's been -- it's going to sound crazy, but in many, many ways, it's been beneficial to me. It's forced me to kind of monitor my behavior.

KING: I understand that.

BRIMLEY: And the one thing I would say to people, don't be scared. Don't be scared. You can fix it.

KING: You know, that's a good point, Jerry. You can be -- you can have a lucky illness.

MATHERS: Very definitely.

KING: It forces you to make corrections in your life.

MATHERS: And if you're ever going to have diabetes, this is the best time. If you knew what the poor people had to do 25 and 30 years ago, the testing, you went to a doctor's office, you sat there for hours and hours. You had to go back and back. Now you can have your own testing supplies. As I say, this is a manageable disease.

KING: It is hard, John, wasn't it, when your son was 4 to deal with it?

RATZENBERGER: Oh, absolutely. The earth opens up and swallows you whole, Larry, as a parent. You just -- you don't understand it, you don't know what's going on. But again, type one, you do have to control it with blood tests at least five times a day, insulin injections. Control is the key. I've met people who are 70, 80 years old with type one diabetes that are living great lives. But control is the key.

KING: And blindness, Dr. Weil, is one of the common things that occurs, right? Why?

WEIL: Because in diabetes, the disorder of metabolism causes disease of small blood vessels throughout the body. That's why people with diabetes develop susceptibility to skin infections, why they lose fingers and toes. And the same process happens in the retinas of the eyes, that the small blood vessels are damaged and the tissues suffers. So there is a generalized disease of little arteries and blood supply.

KING: How often, Della, do you go to the doctor?

REESE: I go now more than I ever went in my life, about four times a year. I used to -- didn't go unless they had to do something drastic and dramatic. I call -- he is a good friend of mine, I call him on a regular basis, although I don't go -- if I don't go, I call him every so often. I say, these are my statistics now.

KING: Jerry, how often do you go?

MATHERS: About every three months. I get -- I go in for bloodwork, and they look at all the things, you know. Also, if you have high cholesterols or high triglycerides, that's also a precursor, so you want to check those kinds of things.

KING: How often do you go, Wilford?

BRIMLEY: I go once a year. But I take a log with me that I've kept throughout the year, little books that I write a lot of stuff in.

KING: John, how often does your son go?

RATZENBERGER: It depends, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tracking, on the average of about five or six weeks he'll go in.

KING: Thank you all very much for enlightening us. Della Reese, good luck.

REESE: Thank you.

KING: And good health. Dr. Andrew Weil, always great seeing you. Jerry Mathers, loved you for years. Wilford Brimley, one of my favorites. What can we say about John Ratzenberger? He cut his own place in the history of American television.

"NEWSNIGHT" is next with Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us and good night.


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