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Patriots lineman, Sen. Shaheen team up to battle diabetes at Derry school

Union Leader Correspondent

March 26. 2013 6:48PM
Patriots All-Pro defensive lineman Vince Wilfork speaks about his father's diabetes during a visit to the Hood Middle School in Derry on Tuesday with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, to promote diabetes awareness. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

DERRY - At first glance, the massive All-Pro New England Patriots defensive lineman and the senator and grandmother from New Hampshire appear to have little in common.

But on Tuesday morning, Vince Wilfork and Jeanne Shaheen were at the Gilbert H. Hood Middle School on Diabetes Alert Day talking to a packed gymnasium about their family experiences with diabetes.

At times, it looked more like a throwback to the recent presidential primaries, as cameras and reporters lined the gym and surrounded Wilfork and Democrat Shaheen at a news conference after the presentation. And when Wilfork walked into the gym, it was as loud as any candidate rally in recent memory.

However, the students quickly quieted down and listened as the genial and soft-spoken Wilfork talked about his father's struggles with Type I diabetes.

"When I was six, seven, or eight, I didn't really know what (diabetes) was or meant," said Wilfork. "I remember that sometimes I would have to carry my father to the restroom to bathe him or feed him or give him insulin when I was eight years old."

As he grew older, Wilfork said he began to understand the effect Type I diabetes had on his father and his family.

"He lost weight, he had to go through dialysis, he lost his eyesight and his hearing and he lost a toe," said Wilfork. In 2002, Wilfork's father died at the age of 48 after a 10-year battle with diabetes.

"It hurt," said Wilfork. "He was my best friend and he taught me everything I know."

Shaheen and her family have seen the impact Type I diabetes has had on her oldest granddaughter, Ellie.

"Type I diabetes you can't change just by having a healthy lifestyle," said Shaheen. However, she said her granddaughter and her family have stayed on top of the diabetes by a number of measures, including experimental trials and through Ellie's service dog, Coach, who can help determine when Ellie's blood sugar is too high or too low.

Type I diabetes is inherited and has to be treated on a daily basis. About 5 percent of the 27 million people in the United States with diabetes have Type I diabetes.

Shaheen and Wilfork said they are working to help lower the numbers of the much more prevalent yet avoidable Type II diabetes, which is often the result of weight gain and unhealthy lifestyles.

"We can all do something about it," said Wilfork. "Please, do not be stubborn ... We all have a job to do, and that is to take care of ourselves."

By eating right and exercising at least an hour a day, Wilfork said children can help make sure they are not at risk for Type II diabetes.

"There are a lot of kids not playing right like we used to," he said. "They are staying in and playing video games and eating potato chips and not outside walking, riding their bicycles, or playing with their friends. Sixty minutes a day of exercise is plenty enough."

3/26/13--Patriots All-Pro defensive lineman Vince Wilfork waves to students during a visit to the Hood Middle School in Derry on Tuesday with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, to promote diabetes awareness. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER

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