No one is above the law, just like no one is above getting diabetes. The blood glucose disease can strike anyone, famous or not famous, on or off the set. Award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson, who is known for her role as lieutenant Anita Van Buren in the television series "Law and Order," was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2003. Now she has partnered with Merck for the America's Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals program, in order to raise diabetes awareness.
"It's been really gratifying to be a part of a program that is spreading knowledge," Merkerson, 61, told the Philly Tribune. She has won multiple awards, including a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Screen Actors Guild and NAACP Image Award for her work in "Lackawanna Blues."
Runs in the blood
For the actress, the disease was at least partly hereditary. And despite the struggle, she gives hope to others living with diabetes symptoms that managing the disease is possible.
"I lost my father and grandmother to complications of Type 2 diabetes so I learned firsthand how important it is to know your A1c and make a commitment to your goal," Merkerson explained to the source. "What I've learned is that Type 2 diabetes is a manageable disease. I'm here to let people know that it is manageable and to not be discouraged, because treatment plans change but you have to stick with it."
In 2003, after having her blood sugar tested at a health fair and being urged to see a doctor, Merkerson finally went in. Although she had a family history of the disease, the actress was unaware that she had it. Before her mother died, she lost her sight due to the condition, and her uncle had to undergo amputations.
"I didn't know the signs to recognize them," she admitted to the Philly Tribune.
Merkerson, who is black, shares her message at a time when about 5 million African-Americans have the disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, African-Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. Because of the lack of awareness and the number of people seeking treatment, among other factors, African-Americans have a significantly higher risk of suffering from blindness, kidney disease and amputations.
Stepping out to boost awareness
The 61-year-old actress will participate in the American Diabetes Association Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes in November. More than 5,500 people showed up for the 2013 Step Out Walk, raising a total of $680,000 for diabetes research.
In addition to the walk, Merkerson has been traveling around the country to encourage people with Type 2 diabetes to meet their A1c goal.