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SOUTHEAST AREA : Latinos Get Help in Diagnosing Diabetes

August 15, 1993|MARY HELEN BERG

Blurred vision, excessive thirst, numb fingers.

More than 450,000 Latinos in Los Angeles County suffer from these and other symptoms of diabetes, according to American Diabetes Assn. statistics, but half of those afflicted are unaware that they have the disease.

The Mexican American Health and Educational Services Center is conducting free weekly workshops for Southeast residents to help raise awareness about diabetes, a potentially deadly disease that affects one in seven Latinos, a rate three times higher than in the general population.

The workshops, which are held in Spanish and English each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the center, 2502 Clarendon Ave., offer information, referrals and support to diabetes patients and their families, said Maria M. Vargas, executive director of the nonprofit center.

The meetings are an important resource, said Gina Caro, outreach coordinator for the diabetes association and a board member for the center. Although diabetes clinics and workshops are available in the area, they are not held regularly and few are conducted in Spanish.

"This will give patients and family members an opportunity to empower themselves and prevent the complications, which can be devastating," Caro said.

Vargas knows from personal experience the dangers of diabetes. Her father died of the disease after losing both legs and most of his eyesight. Three of her brothers and two sisters have been diagnosed with the disease.

About 150,000 people in the United States die from diabetes or related complications each year, Caro said. Latino adults tend to develop diabetes between the ages of 30 and 35, five to 10 years younger than other populations.

Some forms of diabetes do not require insulin treatment and can be controlled through diet, exercise and oral medication.

The key to avoiding the dangerous complications of the disease is being able to recognize the symptoms and seek medical care, Vargas said.

"There's a difference between resignation . . . and saying, 'I have diabetes but I can do something about it,' " Vargas said. "We have control."

For medical referrals, call the American Diabetes Assn. at (213) 381-3639. For information on awareness workshops in Huntington Park, call (213) 583-8421.

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