Jamie Powers has Type 2 diabetes. He weighs about 370 pounds and is in a wheelchair because complications from his disease required that his left leg be amputated below the knee. He takes daily pills and insulin shots.
I met Powers, 55, earlier this week at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport, where he was among about 200 people attending a seminar titled "Diabetes Breakthrough."
A newspaper ad promised that "you will discover the hidden secrets about how to reverse your diabetes, reduce and eliminate your need and dependence on drugs, lose weight without exercise, explode your energy levels and the potential to become non-diabetic."
Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. About 26 million Americans have it, and millions more are in danger of getting it. Like Powers, the vast majority of people with diabetes are Type 2, the variation typically associated with being overweight. Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes, usually has genetic roots.
"My doctor told me that if I could lose 100 pounds or more, my diabetes might be less of a problem," Powers told me. "I just haven't been able to do it."
The "Diabetes Breakthrough" seminar tantalized participants with the possibility of a life without sickness. But, like financial seminars that promise a pathway to riches but are actually sales pitches for costly programs, what was being offered wasn't actually a breakthrough.
It was the chance to pay thousands of dollars for information about lifestyle changes that can be learned online for free.
One person's chronic disease, you could say, is another's business opportunity.
Full disclosure: As a person with Type 1 diabetes, I was as curious as others at the seminar about whether I could free myself of disease and prescription meds. I wear an insulin pump and take a variety of pills to manage my condition. I'd jump at a chance to lead a "normal" life.
Dr. Jeff Hockings wanted to give us one. He was the main speaker at the seminar. Hockings is chief executive of the New Life Wellness Center in Irvine and, according to his website, is "an internationally recognized expert in natural health."
He has "extensive training," the site says, in a wide variety of medical fields, including functional endocrinology, embryology, biochemistry, bacteriology, virology, pathology, radiology, parasitology, immunology, the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, neurodiagnosis, toxicology, geriatrics, clinical psychology and pediatric diagnosis.
In fact he's a chiropractor.
Hockings also runs an infomercial production company near Palm Springs and is author of a handful of books, including "First Class Marriage: Your Ticket to a Fun, Loving and Lasting Relationship" and "52 Ways to Please Your Husband."
His "Diabetes Breakthrough" seminar focused on how doctors and drug companies prosper from treating — but not curing — the disease, and how they lie by saying that diabetes can't be reversed.
People can be rid of diabetes, Hockings said, by "balancing your body."
"Don't let them tell you it's incurable," he told the crowd. "If you follow our program, your diabetes can be reversed and you can get off your meds."
The program, we learned, consists of a three-week "cleansing" of the system, dietary changes, and "high-potency" herbs and nutritional supplements provided exclusively by Hockings' company.
He pointedly didn't say during his presentation how much this would cost. But he said easy financing is available. "If you have financial concerns," he warned, "do not make an appointment."
The goal of the seminar was to get people to sign up for an initial consultation at a cost of $87 (reduced, Hockings said, from an actual cost of $387). This consultation would determine the length and scope of treatment to balance one's body. Such treatment could last up to 18 months.
I asked Hockings after the seminar how much the typical treatment plan costs. He said it depends on each person's condition, but the cost can range from $1,000 to as much as $15,000.
Maybe Hockings' treatment works, I don't know. He claims it has an 85% success rate, "as long as you stay on the program."
Aside from his proprietary herbs and supplements, is he selling anything new? Not really. Most experts agree that eating right, losing weight and keeping fit are the key to minimizing the effects of Type 2 diabetes. In some cases, the disease can indeed be reversed.
That's not the case with Type 1 diabetes, for which there's currently no alternative to daily insulin use. By not making that distinction, Hockings' website and marketing materials are decidedly misleading.
As seminar participants tucked into a free dinner — steak, chicken, veggies — I asked people how much they'd be willing to pay to try to wean themselves from prescription meds.
Connie Chesebro, 67, said she signed up for the $87 consultation and was willing to pay a reasonable amount to be free of her Type 2 diabetes. She said a fair price would be around $500.
What about $5,000?
Chesebro's eyes went wide. "I don't know about that," she said.
Similarly, Lois Yoshimoto, 62, said she pays about $10 a month for the pills she takes to manage her Type 2 diabetes. Even if her treatment cost the minimum $1,000, she said, it might not be the best use of her limited financial resources.
"One thousand dollars can buy a lot of pills," Yoshimoto observed.
Powers, the amputee, made a good guess when I asked him how much he thought Hockings' treatment would run. "Four or five thousand," he said.
Could he afford that?
"Not a chance," Powers answered, taking a bite of his free steak.
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org