Cardiologist Elijah Saunders key figure in documentary

— Heart disease is the number one killer in America, but diabetes is the number one root cause of heart attack and stroke. These facts and others related to heart disease are brought to light in a new documentary film now in production, “Faces of Diabetes” commissioned by Diabetes Awareness Project.

Dr. Elijah Saunders, a board certified cardiologist and professor of medicine at University of Maryland Medical School was recently interviewed for the film and has a significant role throughout the documentary. He reveals that there is a connection between diabetes and hypertension. “Hypertension [high blood pressure] can often lead to and make worse many complications of diabetes, including diabetic eye disease and kidney disease. Most people with diabetes develop high blood pressure during their life.

“Diabetes makes high hypertension and other heart and circulation problems more probable in that diabetes damages arteries and makes them targets for hardening (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can cause high blood pressure, which if not treated, can lead to blood vessel damage, stroke, heart failure, heart attack, or kidney failure, Dr. Saunders continued.”

Saunders is a pioneer in research related to African Americans and hypertension. He is a founding member of The International Society of Hypertension In Blacks (ISHIB) and is recognized as an expert on hypertension, especially as it relates to people of African descent.

“There is without question a connection between diabetes, heart attack and stroke,” stated Dr. Saunders. Between 65 percent and 85 percent of people with diabetes will ultimately die of either a heart attack or stroke. Diabetes is a disease that can damage the blood vessels. Higher blood sugar levels help to build up cholesterol and as plaque builds up they clog the arteries, called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.”

Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance which is when the body can’t properly use the insulin it makes. People who have type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance have higher levels of substances in the blood that cause blood clots. Blood clots can block the coronary arteries and cause a heart attack or even death.

The “Faces of Diabetes” documentary uncovers the underlying causes and complications of the diabetes epidemic in the United States and throughout the world. According to Center for Disease Control, there are approximately 26 million children and adults in the United States with diabetes or roughly 8.3 percent of the population. The CDC reveals that an estimated 79 million people have pre-diabetes. According to Dr, Saunders, most diabetes can be managed through medication and some symptoms can be reversed with a regiment of exercise and diet.

In 2011, Dr. Saunders received the prestigious Herbert W. Nickens Award from the American Association of Medical Colleges. The award is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to promoting justice in medical education and health care equity in the United States. For more than three decades he has served as professor of medicine and also heads the hypertension section of the Cardiology department at the University School of Medicine.

“Faces of Diabetes” is scheduled to be released in 2014 and interviews patients struggling with diabetes, the physicians who treat them, and family members of diabetics.

For more information on the connection between diabetes and heart disease and visit

Md. Black Caucus kicks off Diabetes Awareness Month

— Six months after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, a young decorated veteran lay on the floor with a 1600 sugar level fighting for his life. That was two years ago and since then, Maurice Hunt has become the brainchild behind a national organization, Diabetes Awareness Project. That near-death experience has energized the Navy vet to educate the public on the disease called “The Silent Killer.”

The diabetes advocacy, education and testing organization had a major presence at last week’s Maryland Legislative Black Caucus Weekend in Annapolis. Hunt and the organization launched a nationwide “TestaMillion” campaign to test one million people for diabetes. Morgan State University’s (MSU) Nursing Program administered the glucose testing on behalf of “TestaMillion” and tested dozens of participants.

Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a national expert on health disparity legislation, was responsible for the organization’s presence and for the diabetes testing it performed for the public at the conference. “TestaMillion is a very important testing and educational health initiative, and I’m proud that it started here in Maryland,” said Delegate Nathan Pulliam. “Diabetes is so dangerous because it attacks so many body functions and its symptoms are often not detected. Diabetes is called the silent killer because it symptoms often go unchecked. Diabetes can cause blindness, kidney disease, amputation, gum disease and tooth loss, skin diseases, heart attack and stroke.”

Morgan State University’s nursing program has formed a strategic partnership with Diabetes Awareness Project and TestaMillion and has agreed to assist in administering glucose testing and testing for hypertension throughout the Maryland. Nursing students from Morgan, under the supervision of their clinical professors, tested Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and several dozen participants in Annapolis at and he commended the student for pursuing careers in health care.

“We are pleased that TestaMillion has chosen us to help deliver this most important testing and educational health initiative” said Morgan Professor Pauline Aquil-Preston. “Our nursing students are getting practical experience in helping to curb diabetes that is a worldwide epidemic. Morgan State University is producing the next generation of competent nurses that will help deliver tomorrow’s health care services.”

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body cannot produce insulin or use it properly. Insulin is a hormone necessary to convert blood sugar, or blood glucose, into energy. Blood glucose is made in the body from the sugar, starches, and other food we eat.

“Diabetes is a very serious health issue in Maryland and throughout the USA and it is the major cause of heart attack and stroke,” said Lt. Governor Brown. “To reduce the incidence of this disease, it starts with programs just like this that promote testing and educating the public on ways to detect and prevent the disease. I got tested and support the mission of TestaMillion and Diabetes Awareness Project because many Marylanders are unaware that they have the disease.”

“November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and as a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, I am particularly sensitive to the rise in diabetes and its complications among our veterans,” said Maurice Hunt, president and founder of Diabetes Awareness Project. “The number one claim paid out by the VA throughout the U.S. is for diabetes and many Vietnam vets are struggling with the disease. We are grateful to Lt. Governor Anthony Brown for his support and endorsement, especially since he is an Army veteran.”