Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi

All my life I have been linked to the underdog, the overlooked, the un- or under appreciated. I had the fortune, or misfortune, of being raised in a Mississippi State household. A few years back, I attempted to divorce myself from the program. My degrees are from elsewhere. I don't have to pull for them. I'm an adult; I can make my own allegiances, I thought. But alas, the bond was too deep, too strong, too familial based and it held even against my will. We haven't an abundance of success on the football field. The five weeks we spent atop the college football rankings a couple of years back were like a dream, and I was glad then that the bond had been unbreakable. I wished over and over during that time that Dad were to walk on cloud nine with us.

When I started teaching, it was for a small, underdog school, North Sunflower Academy, situated in the midst of the blighted delta and whose football team had not won a game in a couple of years. The state I live in, Mississippi, is ranked last in all or most of the good things of American society and first in many of the bad. The part Mississippi where my wife and I reside is the poorest, fattest, least healthy and most violent of the state. The church I pastored for twenty-three years was also and underdog, invisible to our own denomination as was the denomination itself to the area I pastored. It's just my lot in life, I suppose, to be with the underdog, the unnoticed, the unappreciated. I can take it. I won't argue with God anymore. Not on this topic.

When I started the Chicot Challenge in 2012, I raised money for the American Diabetes Association, a charity well-respected, well-known, and many are willing to support. Between year one and year two of the Challenge, however, I switched allegiance to a charity more in line with the tenor of my life: the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi.

As a composition teacher for a community college here in the Delta, I have my students write multiple papers on diabetes related topics. I always ask each class two questions. 1) Have you ever heard of the American Diabetes Association? 2) Have you ever heard of the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi? The answer to the first question is always yes, 100% of the time. The answer to the second query is almost always no. What else is new?

I call them, the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, the best charity no one ever heard of. If you live in Mississippi and want to support an organization that does work on this disease, they are the best choice by far. Let me tell you a few of the reasons they are.

First, they are our charity and we have the greatest need right here at home. When I raised money for the ADA, I mailed the funds to Alexandria, Virginia. I doubt Mississippi ever saw a penny of that money. Mississippi has long been the fattest state in the nation, a major risk factor for the development of Type 2 Diabetes. We have severe health issues here in the Magnolia State and all of them, obesity, blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer, are worse here in the Delta than in the rest of our impoverished state. Our little piece of homeland lies in desperate need of a health intervention. 

Some of us have been attempting that intervention. John Pace, for instance, works tirelessly to promote healthy living and raise awareness of diabetes and funds for the DFM. He does this through his Team John Boy that promotes healthy living and raises funds for several charities one of which is the DFM. Dr. Joseph Assini, a podiatrist with the Greenwood Leflore Hospital has put tremendous effort into providing diabetes education programs at the hospital, going on a personal but public weight loss program on Good Morning Mississippi, and speaking each semester to my Comp I classes at MDCC. Forrest Hodge recently completed his 30-30-30 run for Diabetes, the concept which was to encourage thirty people to give thirty dollars each while he ran thirty miles to celebrate his thirtieth birthday. The effort succeed beyond his wildest hopes. And the Chicot Challenge, my solo charity swim, falls in line with these other efforts in seeking to draw attention to our diabetes problem, the people who are addressing it, and funds for our diabetes charity. But I do digress a bit.

As our charity, 100% of any funds donating to the DFM stay in the state of Mississippi. Not only that, but 84% of every donated dollar goes to the charitable purpose. That's pretty good, and if you don't believe it, check them out at CharityNavigators. In short, the DFM is efficient in addressing diabetes right here at home. But what do they do with those funds raised for them?

They work tirelessly in the area of education. Irena McClean, for instance, travels the state speaking to nurses and school officials teaching them about the disease and how to deal with diabetic students. Not only is education to schools a prime focus of theirs, but twice a year they hold Camp Kandu, which brings together the state's Type I kids to give then fellowship and education on how to live successfully with their condition. While the children are being taught, so are the parents. 

Diabetic supplies is another area of their service. When a child is diagnosed with diabetes in a Mississippi hospital, the DFM are the first-repsonders, showing up with a backpack full of educational materials and diabetic supplies. When a diabetic is having difficulty purchasing his or her needed medications, guess who will help. I actually know someone who asked them for assistance, and they came though for him.

Recently, this all-star organization has begun purchasing diabetic dogs for Type 1 kids. I went to high school with a girl whose niece received one of these potentially life-saving canines. These well-trained dogs can actually smell a drop in their owner's blood sugar and alert the patient to the need for medical action.

Research, you ask? Yes, they support ongoing research at the University Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. Go to their website: and see the many other ways they seek to educate, advocate, and assist people in Mississippi who suffer from this affliction at a rate disproportionate with the rest of the US.

Just this past Saturday, the DFM held their annual Super Conference, a gathering of diabetes activists, experts, and patients for more education. I'm not sure what all they do there since I have never been. I was invited this year as was my son Forrest. I was in bed, ill. Forrest attended. They honored him with an award of recognition. They sent me one too.
From left to right: Dr. Carlton, President of the DFM Board;
Forrest; Mary Fortune, Executive Vice President of the DFM.

Me, the award, and Buddy Bones.