Friday, February 12, 2016

Type 2 in City Hall

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller learned of her Type 2 diabetes about 15 years ago. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Philadelphia City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller learned of her Type 2 diabetes about 15 years ago. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

Donna Reed Miller, a city councilwoman since 1996, faced four opponents in the 2007 Democratic primary.

That wasn't new. Miller, who represents a district that covers North Philadelphia, Germantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, usually draws plenty of challengers come election time.

But one of her opponents had what he or she thought was a secret political weapon to deploy.

Miller has Type 2 diabetes.

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  • "There were some people that were saying they were going to make it an issue," Miller said. "I don't know who they were supporting, but they were definitely against me."

    For Miller, who represents a district with a large African-American population, it was potentially an electoral edge.

    The American Diabetes Association says the disease impacts 14.7 percent of all African-Americans ages 20 years or older, including 25 percent between the ages of 65 and 74, and 25 percent of women over 55.

    "I just said I hope they would because they're so many people that are diabetic," Miller said of the political threat. Her challengers later dropped their plans.

    Miller learned of her diabetes about 15 years ago, when she noticed that every weekend found her feeling sick and tired, sprawled on her couch. After more than a month of that, a cousin asked what was wrong when Miller said she didn't feel up to going out.

    "Plus I was starting to lose weight," Miller said. "That particular weekend, I started getting blurred vision and I was very thirsty. So I went to the doctor."

    Miller's parents weren't diabetic but an aunt often spoke about "her sugar."

    After being diagnosed, Miller learned her older cousins also had Type 2 diabetes. There had been little discussion and no education in the family about the disease, something she set about to change in conversations with younger relatives. "I say things to them because my goal now is prevention," Miller said.

    It has been a learning process for Miller as well. Joining Council shortly after being diagnosed, she sometimes left her colleagues confused by things she said during meetings. Miller told the Daily News in 1998 that she sometimes had trouble managing her diabetes, leaving her "incoherent and jittery."

    Miller learned to prepare herself in case Council meetings ran long. She keeps orange juice and Glucerna, a type of shake that can help regulate blood-sugar levels, in her office refrigerator and snacks in her desk in Council's chambers one floor above.

    "Some Council members, if they're hungry, they know to go in my desk because there's a lot to eat there," Miller said. "I always have something."

    Having learned to manage her diabetes, she now hopes to push back against its impact. That will mean exercise. And that isn't always easy.

    Miller bought a bike during the summer and promptly broke one of her toes. Last month she caught the flu.

    "Every time I seem to set my mind to do something, something else happens," Miller said.

    She recently signed up for line-dancing classes.

    Miller takes pills for her diabetes. "I would love to work my way down," she said. "I don't know how realistic it is to say that I won't need medication. But I think I can control it more. I've changed my eating habits."

    And Miller, who once enjoyed swimming, running and table tennis, is looking beyond line-dancing for ways to be active. She visited a boys club recently and played some table tennis. She then visited a sporting-goods store, anticipating a return to the club. "I bought a paddle," she said. "I'm ready now."

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