Archive for November, 2011

Diabetes, Part 1

November is National Diabetes Month. Most of us know someone with diabetes, but we may not understand just what this disease is.

Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or when the insulin becomes ineffective. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps move glucose (blood sugar) from the blood into the cells of our bodies, where the glucose acts as a source of life-sustaining energy for our muscles and tissues. When insulin is insufficient or ineffective, the sugar level in our blood increases, causing diabetes.

There are several types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, one’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin. This is usually a genetic problem where one’s own immune system attacks and destroys the cells that create insulin in the pancreas. This type of diabetes often starts in childhood and has the most serious health complications.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when one’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, causing sugar to build up in the bloodstream. Being overweight is a major contributing factor. Genetics and environmental factors may also play a role in this type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type and can occur at any age. It is also preventable.

Prediabetes often precedes type 2 diabetes. This condition occurs when the blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to cause any obvious health problems. It is estimated that perhaps 80 million people in the U.S. have this condition, which, if not recognized and treated, could go on to type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes depend on how high one’s blood sugar is. These include:

– Frequent urination

– Increased thirst

– Extreme hunger

– Unexplained weight loss

Risk factors for diabetes depend on the type of diabetes. For type 1, these factors include genetics, environment, dietary habits, race and geography. Risk factors for type 2 include obesity, inactivity, family history, age and pregnancy.

Complications of diabetes take time to develop. The longer one has diabetes and the higher the blood sugar, the worse the complications. Eventually, these complications can cause significant disability and possibly early death. Diabetic complications include:

– Cardiovascular disease, especially heart attacks and strokes.

– Nerve (neuropathy) and blood vessel damage involving the legs and feet sometimes leading to amputation.

– Eye damage.

– Kidney damage, often leading to dialysis or even to kidney transplantation.

– Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as certain cancers.

My next column will cover the tests, treatment and prevention of diabetes.

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November 11 is Veterans Day. Although I never had to serve in the military, I honor those who did. I especially have the highest regard for those who actually saw combat and put their lives on the line for me and my country. To you ladies and gentlemen, I give my deepest thanks.

Today I’d like to honor my favorite veteran, my late father, Dr. Stanley Hollenbeck. Dad was born in 1911 in Milwaukee, Wis., where I was also born and raised. He graduated from Marquette University School of Medicine in 1936 and began a private practice. Around that same time, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard.

With the onset of World War II, his regiment became part of the Army’s 32nd Infantry Division which was sent to Australia in May 1942. Dad left behind his new medical practice, his wife and his newborn son, my brother Stan Jr. I can’t imagine how Dad felt about leaving his comfortable life behind, especially not knowing what he would be facing, as he would be thrust into the escalating war with Japan in the South Pacific.

Dad was the commanding officer of the 14th Portable Surgical Hospital, one of the army’s first Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units, which were later popularized by Alan Alda in the TV hit series “M.A.S.H.” Dad and his crew were sent to the north coast of New Guinea near a small village called Buna, where the enemy was deeply entrenched. His unit’s bulky, hot, humid hospital tent was set up less than 1,000 yards from the front line where hand-to-hand combat was taking place.

Health conditions for the troops were among the worst in the world. The mosquitoes and flies were horrific. Almost all soldiers, including Dad, suffered bouts of malaria. Everyone had recurrent dysentery. There were also scrub typhus, dengue fever, hookworm, yaws and countless cases of “fever of unknown origin.” Troops suffered from depression and severe battle fatigue caused by the relentless hot, humid, rainy weather, the jungle and inadequate food. For every two men who were battle casualties, five were out of action from fever.

Dad and his crew often operated day and night on the young wounded soldiers. This took place in a large canvas tent by lantern light. Temperatures inside the tent could reach up to 130 degrees. All of this was done under frequent machine gun strafing and bombing by enemy fighter planes, as well as the constant threat of being overrun by enemy troops.

Dad kept a daily diary of his life in New Guinea, which was later published by his Veterans of Foreign Wars group in Milwaukee. I would like to share an excerpt from that diary. On Nov. 16, 1942, a five-boat convoy bringing desperately needed ammunition, food and medical supplies to the troops was attacked by enemy aircraft, setting all the vessels ablaze. Dad and his crew witnessed the attack from the shore.

In his diary, he later wrote: “I grabbed my medical kit, forded the river and started up the beach. I could see the boats burning fiercely as night began to fall. I was frightened to death not knowing exactly where the enemy troops would be as I walked along the jungle’s edge. I continued up the beach, checked on survivors and rendered first aid. I had the more seriously injured sent back to our hospital tent. I hurried back to get ready to operate on the wounded. We operated all night long on the men, mostly with abdominal wounds, sewing up the bullet holes in their intestines, besides treating other serious wounds. We finally finished, getting to bed at 4:30 a.m.”

From October 1942 through February 1943, Dad remained just behind the front line, operating and treating wounds on countless injured soldiers. Lives were lost, but many more were saved due to the efforts of Dad and his crew. In February 1943, the 14th Portable Surgical Hospital was awarded the Distinguished Unit of Citation, and several individual members of the unit, including my father, received the Silver Star medal for gallantry in action. He also received the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Dad told me that he and his fellow soldiers were willing to put their lives on the line, believing that a victory would end all wars and that their children would never have to do the same. Unfortunately, such a dream was not to come true. Sons and daughters are still sent to battle.

Here’s to you, Dad, of whom I am so very proud, and to all the other brave veterans living and dead. I salute you and I honor you.

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