Husband’s family history similar to that of Vandross

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2005

When I received the news of Luther Vandross’ death at the age of 54 on July 1, details of his diabetes began to hit home and moved me to write this column.

Like Vandross, my late husband James Wall had diabetes and struggled with obesity, hypertension, and fluctuating weight. James had two brothers, one a twin, who had all suffered with the disease and had died in their 50s just like Vandross.

As I read some of Vandross’ biography after going online and clicking onto his name, I learned that diabetes ran in his family and he had three younger siblings and a father who also died from complications of this disease. This leaves only his mother Mary to survive him.

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For those of you who do not know what diabetes is, it is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal.

Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose or sugar for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.

There are two types of diabetes-Type I and Type II.

Another type of diabetes, gestational, is a type that only pregnant women get. This information comes from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse publication. For more information on these types click on the email address below.

James developed Type II diabetes at the age of 47 and had symptoms which included frequent urination, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss and extreme hunger. Other symptoms of the disease were that he had are sudden vision changes, feeling very tired much of the time, very dry skin, sores that are slow to heal and more infections than usual.

After a short confinement by his physician at Obici Hospital to get his blood level back to a normal reading, we were assigned to a dietician employed at the hospital, in order that I could learn how to prepare and select the foods that a diabetic should maintain to lead a normal life.

In addition, because he smoked cigarettes, his physician had ordered him to stop smoking immediately. Getting to his new diet and stopping smoking were the hardest things for him to do.

When he was first diagnosed, oral medication was prescribed to him. But because he did go off his diet a little, he soon had to take insulin. He use to fuss every time he had to give himself a needle and tried to control his blood level and said often that he wouldn’t wish this disease on his worst enemy. That is why I think he would have agreed for me to write this article so someone can benefit from his experience with this disease.

Five years after he was diagnosed, this dreadful disease began to take its toll on our families.

In July 1993 during our school reunion, he suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized for about two weeks. In January 1994 his twin brother suffered a sudden major heart attack that took his life at the age of 52. In 1996 James underwent an operation on one of his legs from the groin to his ankles because walking long distances became very difficult. I was amazed how well the incision healed in spite of his diabetes and he returned to work in about five weeks. In January 1998 he was rushed to Obici because he had begun to experience shortness of breath. At that time he was diagnosed as having heart failure.

He was employed at Newport News Shipyard and was a member of a quartet. All of the previous mentioned bouts of illness from diabetes didn’t keep him down. He once more returned to work and began singing again.

On Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 17 and 18, 1998, he participated in concerts at various churches. However, on Monday, Oct. 19, 1998, as he was preparing to go to work, he suffered a major heart attack that took his life at the age of 57. His older brother who lived in Charlotte, N.C., died in December 1999 at the age of 59.

Strokes, heart attacks, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations are major complications that diabetes can cause and news articles reported that Vandross never fully recovered from the stroke that he suffered in 2003.

For these reasons I salute all health care facilities, clubs and organizations that sponsor health screenings which include diabetic screenings because there may be times when a person may have high glucose levels and don’t even know it, indicating that he may have diabetes.

I am devoting this column in the memory of my husband and Vandross. If it motivates one person to take charge of his life and get a screening when it is available in his community or elsewhere, then it will not have been written in vain.

For more information on diabetes go online to (

Evelyn Wall is a regular columnist for the News-Herald.