The South Bronx has the highest rate of people suffering from diabetes in the entire United States. Of the 62 counties in New York State, the Bronx ranks last in health. Against the backdrop of these dim figures, there are people in the Bronx from all walks of life standing up to do something about it. Notably, the efforts of the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who launched #Not62: A Campaign for a Healthy Bronx to combat the factors negatively affecting the health of Bronx residents. Now, there are new efforts underway, and several stars of the VH1 series ‘Love and Hip Hop’ and physicians from the cutting edge of diabetes research and treatment gathered in the South Bronx on November 14th, 2017 to speak out, raise awareness and celebrate advances against the debilitating disease.
The official United Nations sanctioned World Diabetes Day event was held at the grand opening of the new Diabetes Relief Centers of America location at Third Avenue and 148th Street in the Bronx. It is the first Diabetes Relief Center location outside of the Southeastern US and was located in the Bronx because it is the area with the greatest need, where they can have the largest impact on the population. Lon G. Von Hurwitz, President and Co-Founder of Diabetes Relief Centers of America, LLC said that the center welcomes the community in through its doors just as much as the community welcomes the center to the neighborhood.
Michael Brady, Executive Director of the HUB Third Avenue Business Improvement District, described the busy commercial corridor where the Diabetes Relief Center is opening, the second most trafficked in NYC to Times Square. Brady told the attentive crowd about the billions of dollars in public funding and private investment pouring into the Bronx to revitalize its neighborhood downtowns and improve its infrastructure. These investments are encouraging, but investments need to be made in the people and the health of community as well, like the endeavors of the Diabetes Relief Center, said Brady.
The video screen lit up and the music video for ‘Déjà Vu (Uptown Baby)’ began to play to introduce Peter Gunz, one of the stars of VH1’s hit reality series ‘Love and Hip Hop’. Peter talked of his deep connection to the South Bronx saying “I’m from less than a mile from here” and “…my family went Christmas shopping right here every year”. He continued to say that it’s great to see something new getting built in the community that’s actually good for it, “…something besides a McDonald’s or a Popeyes going up”. Gunz went on, “My parents always said that there wasn’t a history of diabetes or heart disease in our family, but the truth is that like so many of our parents in the Bronx, they didn’t go to the Dr. Many people are walking around unaware that they have it (diabetes)”. The screen in the background rotated statistics saying that 25% of New Yorkers estimated to have diabetes may be going undiagnosed and one in three people in the Bronx will be diagnosed with diabetes, silently supporting Gunz’s statements.
The doctors and nurses that will run the Diabetes Relief Center then took turns at the podium to address the attendees. Dr. Ray Basri spoke of how education and preparedness is essential for the community to combat the disease. Then that education will spread through their patients to their families and doctors to reach the community at large. Dr. Gina Nelson, who was first a diabetes patient, described how her research into treatments for her debilitating neuropathy lead her to the Diabetes Relief Center where she now works. It is her mission to make sure that this is the last generation to suffer from diabetes. She finished her remarks by describing the treatment, “This is a game changer”.
Dr. Ford Gilbert spoke about how he originally developed the treatment for his daughter Trina who suffered from type 1 diabetes from an early age. The microburst insulin treatments are named Trina for his daughter. The last to speak was Carolyn Gershenson, RN and Certified Diabetes Educator. Carolyn expressed her gratitude to be able to work helping underserved populations. She also thanked the cast of ‘Love and Hip Hop’ and her old friend, Rich Dollaz, for showing up after just one phone call to support the event. Lastly, she announced VH1’s donation to two local children with diabetes so that they can attend a diabetes summer camp this coming year. The donation from VH1 is being matched by Lon G Von Hurwitz and the Diabetes Relief Center.
Rich Dollaz, the VH1 ‘Love and Hip Hop’ star, shared his struggle with diabetes recently on the show and was moved to speak at the event and rally his co-stars to attend. Dollaz lost his uncle and grandmother to the disease and has known others who have lost limbs or their eyesight. At 41 years old, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was a surprise for Dollaz. “Its not a death sentence if you take care of it, but people don’t think of their future when they’re busy every day. People don’t listen to their bodies. You can’t ignore things because they inconvenience you. It’s not a weakness to take care of yourself.” Dollaz said. He struggled with treatment before his condition stabilized and he was very ill and didn’t know what would happen to him and his career. “It’s not weak – it’s scary” said Dollaz. Dollaz got emotional as he went on to say, “I’m here, I care, I’m speaking, and I care for you and I’m here, you need to be there for yourself, you need to be here too, you need to be alive…”.
Tara Wallace of the ‘Love and Hip Hop’ cast was the last to speak. She talked about how World Diabetes Day’s focus this year is on the effect of diabetes on women and pregnancy and how women are instrumental in the fight against the disease. She described how the disease is so common that growing up, they treated it as if it were normal. Her grandmothers suffered amputations and fainting spells and she stressed how important it is to get tested before you feel something if you have a history in your family. She ended her talk by saying “Thank you for opening this center in the place in the country with the highest rate of gestational diabetes – right here in the BX.”
The presentation ended by looking toward the future. They announced a new research study at the University of California, Irvine into the efficacy of the treatment that will help the treatment to be adopted by more physicians across the United States and the world. Lon G. Von Hurwitz expressed his excitement to start working with the community and begin changing lives through the Trina treatment.
Dennelisse was present at the event to make connections with the Diabetes Relief Center and other community organizations. Dennelisse fights the harm diabetes causes in the communities we serve through care coordination, case management and home care for those whose diabetes has reached a point of crisis, lead to hospitalizations or if the day-to-day control of their disease has become overwhelming for them. There are many organizations fighting diabetes and its causes throughout NYC and Dennelisse looks to join with them in order to create a connected and coordinated effort to help those in need.
Through advances in treatment, raising awareness, and promoting education and prevention, there is a brighter future for the embattled health of the city. Evidence of that brighter future could be found at this event. World Diabetes Day did not pass by silently in the South Bronx this year thanks to the United Nations, the Diabetes Relief Centers of America, VH1 and some Love and Hip Hop.