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Mitchell: Doug Banks puts new face on old disease

Doug Banks

Radio personality Doug Banks died Monday. He was 57. | V103

Once again, we are stunned by the death of a black celebrity who has left us too soon.

V-103 Radio personality Doug Banks’ death on Monday at age 57 is the latest such death that is linked to diabetes.

Rapper Malik Taylor, known as Phife Dawg of “A Tribe Called Quest,” died last month at age 45 from complications resulting from the chronic disease.

TV One news host Roland Martin tweeted the news of Banks’ death early Monday afternoon. “I heard he was not doing well and had failing kidneys. This is just so hard,” Martin said.

Words of condolences from co-workers and fans of the longtime Chicago DJ that flooded social media conveyed the heavy weight of this loss.

No matter what the cause, it is heartbreaking that someone in midlife like Banks succumbed to diabetes.


But the facts about African-Americans and a disease that my parents called “sugar” are shocking and discouraging.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health:

• African-Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.

• African-American adults are 80 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with end stage renal disease as compared to non-Hispanic whites.

• And in 2013, African-Americans were twice as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to die from diabetes.

Complications of diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization released for World Health Day 2016.

Last December, the Chicagoland Radio and Media website reported that Banks was missing from WVAZ-FM/V103 because he was suffering from diabetes.

“That issue has now caused him serious kidney trouble. Banks now has to begin dialysis treatments,” the site reported.

His sudden death puts a spotlight on a disease that is silently ravaging the African-American community.

Dr. LaVerne Currie, a primary care physician at Advocate Health Care’s office on the Southeast Side, said one-third of his patients suffer from diabetes.

“I struggle with patients with diabetes trying to get them to get it and understand the dangers of the disease and how it can affect all organs,” Currie told me.

My father struggled with diabetes for nearly 20 years.

I watched him keep a sad ritual that included testing his blood sugar levels, trying to exercise with bad knees, and passing up the pies and cakes he once enjoyed.

But my dad lived to be 80 years old.

As a result of watching what my father went through, I am more vigilant about looking for any sign of the disease.

Banks, whose upbeat personality kept us entertained for decades, is now the face of a disease that too many of us dismiss as something that happens to older people.

We are so wrong about that. Everyday in my neighborhood, I pass by at least one middle-aged man or woman in a wheelchair because of a lower-extremity amputation.

Banks’ untimely passing is upsetting but brings this disease to the dinner table where the conversation needs to start.

“Our diets in black communities are really poor — high in starches, high in sweets. The foods we consume are full of sugar,” Currie said.

He also said too many of us are ignoring the signs that something could be wrong.

“Too often people are diagnosed late or when they are having a problem. I find many people don’t get it until something serious happens and at that point there are multiple organs involved. The sad thing is we have all the mechanisms to help them. Access to medical care is not an excuse anymore,” he said.

Banks used his talents to pick us up on the way home.

Hopefully, his personal fight against diabetes will inspire more of us to make healthier choices on the rest of our journey.