Diabetes hits home for Maria Menounos

Oct. 8, 2008 at 8:20 PM ET

From Maria Menounos, TODAY contributor

Diabetes has officially become an epidemic of national and even worldwide proportions. In the past few decades, the disease has grown at an alarming rate that continues to escalate today. In addition, there are upwards of 5.7 million people have the disease and do not even know it, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Maria Menounos with her parents, Stavroula and Costas.

For me, the disease and its debilitating effects have been all too familiar, as my father was diagnosed with diabetes over 40 years ago. The disease crippled our family. My mother and I were forced to monitor his sugar level 24 hours a day, and Dad’s ongoing low blood sugar attacks (there were hundreds, maybe even thousands) placed him in deadly peril.  Sometimes he would be behind the wheel when his blood sugar dropped, and he would drive off the road. Sometimes he would forget his identity, lose his bearings and wander off.  Police who misread his conditions for drunkenness arrested him.  He even slipped into a coma, and was pronounced dead by doctors.

Thankfully, I was eventually able to get my father to the right physicians who could educate my mother, father and me on how to properly treat the disease. Up until that time, we were basically winging it on common sense and outdated medical advice.   With the help of the pump (a device that continually monitors sugar and delivers insulin) and a proper diet, I am proud to report - with the hardest of knocks on wood - that my father is doing better than ever.

We are not alone

I pitched a series on diabetes to NBC because I know there are so many other families out there struggling with the disease and perhaps unnecessarily so. When I first started at The Today Show I did a two-minute story on the subject. It was a step in the right direction, for sure, but two minutes is simply not enough time to adequately raise awareness for a condition of this magnitude.

With the diabetes series that kicks off on Thursday, we are not only going to explain the differences between Type 1 and Type 2, we are also going to conduct a Diabetes Fair on The Plaza. At the fair, people will have the opportunity to meet with the best nutritionists, doctors, trainers and educators. Individual testing for the existence of the disease will also be conducted. Perhaps you are one of the 5.7 million people who have been unknowingly living with diabetes.  The fair will be the place to learn about treatment.  The disease is actually manageable and if you’re afraid that you could have it, this is your chance to be exposed to the best of the best in terms of practitioners.

Those of you who may need to lose weight so your Type 2 diabetes doesn’t advance to the stage of insulin, I urge you to come on down to the plaza and have the best fitness experts put you on a plan for a better tomorrow. For those with Type 1, my dad’s personal physician, Dr. Anne Peters, will be there to help answer your questions. She single-handedly saved his life. Simple changes to his daily regiment made the difference. I want that same difference for you.