Patti LaBelle Sings out for Diabetes Freedom

Patti LaBelle says she is thankful that she passed out on stage during a concert performance 10 years ago.

That dramatic moment resulted in a diabetes diagnosis for the two-time Grammy Award-winning diva.

The event got LaBelle on track with controlling her blood glucose levels, eating a healthful diet and exercising regularly—all while maintaining an active schedule of performances as one of America’s most popular entertainers.

“I thought I had passed out from exhaustion,” LaBelle told Diabetes Health. “I was rushed to the hospital, and the doctor diagnosed me with diabetes. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t passed out that night . . . I wouldn’t have found out I had diabetes [until much later].”

Getting Personal

Knowing she had diabetesenabled LaBelle to control thecondition—and continue herstellar career.

Until she learned of herdiabetes, the Philadelphia nativesays she was always scared ofgoing to the doctor.

“We, as African-Americans,don’t go to the doctor enough.We should definitely visit ourdoctors more.”

LaBelle urges people to see theirdoctors more often to maintaingood health and find out if they areat risk for diabetes or if they might already have diabetes and don’tknow about it yet.

She recently teamed up withAbbott Laboratories, themanufacturers of Glucerna barsand shakes, on their DiabetesFreedom campaign, working topromote diabetes awareness and toencourage people to better managetheir diabetes. A special contestis part of the campaign to fostersuccessful diabetes management.The grand-prize winner will getto see LaBelle in concert, withpersonal backstage access.

LaBelle is getting personallyinvolved; after all, diabetes has hada significant impact on her ownlife.

“I remember my mother died fromdiabetes. She was an amputee atage 58,” LaBelle says. “So manypeople that I knew died withdiabetes—it was scary.”

But, she says, “Diabetes doesn’thave to be such a bad thing if youcontrol it.”

Challenges on the Road

Despite her efforts to eat ahealthful diet, exercise and manageher medications, life on the roadhas its own set of challenges forLabelle, who recently released analbum called “Timeless Journey.”

“The biggest challenge for meis trying to take my medicineon time,” she says. “Being at the airport and not being able tofind a bathroom to go and takemy medicine or give myselfinjections is a challenge that Ideal with very often.”

Sometimes low blood glucoseepisodes occur at inconvenienttimes—even for famousperformers.

“One night before a show inMiami, there was a doctor onhand who told me not to go on[due to a low blood glucose],”LaBelle says. “I told him that Ihad to perform. So, I had somethings to eat with carbohydrateto just get me through it— andI got through it.”

A Message to Others

LaBelle strongly urges othersto control their blood glucoselevels through frequentmonitoring and actively takinga part in their own diabetesmanagement.

“You should test your bloodsugar as often as possible,” shesays. “If it’s too low or too high,take care of it right away . . .Never neglect yourself, not fora minute.”

Mary Milewski is a Connecticut basedfreelance writer for print andbroadcast media. She has a master’sdegree in journalism and has livedwith diabetes for 15 years.

In Show Biz for Over 40 Years

Patti LaBelle has been known for herpowerhouse vocal delivery since she startedrecording and performing live in 1961 asthe leader of the Bluebelles, who had themillion-selling hit, “I Sold My Heart to theJunkman.”

In her decades as a performer, the LutherVandross-inspired LaBelle achieved dozensof hits that include:

  • The 1983 chart topper “If Only You Knew”
  • The 1985 smash “New Attitude”
  • The 1986 pop and R&B number-one single “On My Own,” a duet with Michael McDonald

More recent hits include:

  • “Somebody Loves You Baby”
  • “When You’ve Been Blessed”
  • “The Right Kind of Lover”
  • “When You Talk About Love”


LaBelle has also writtentwo best-selling books:an autobiography called“Don’t Block the Blessings”and a cookbook titled“LaBelleCuisine:Recipes toSing About.”

How a Diva With DiabetesTakes Control

PattiLaBellecontrols her diabeteswith exercise, includingswimming and walking.

She also enjoys a healthful diet.“I like steamed spinach with garlic.I do all of my vegetables that way,”LaBelle says. She also enhances her mealswith herbs and spices.

She makes sure to plan in advance onperformance days to avoid low bloodglucose during a show. For extra energybefore performances, LaBelle says shelikes to eat some chicken breast orsteamed shrimp. She enjoys a salad ofspinach, sliced tomatoes, onions andlettuce with a vinaigrette dressing.

“I make sure that I follow the sameroutine with my diet, exerciseand medication. Each day I takeHumalog injections at mealtimes, alsoGlucophage,” she says. “I have about threesmall meals. I also try to get as muchexercise each day as possible.”

‘Diabetes Freedom’ Contest

Legendary entertainer Patti La-Belle recently joined forces withAbbott Laboratories, the makersof Glucerna bars and shakes,to launch a new campaign called“Diabetes Freedom.” Together theyhope to inspire others to managetheir diabetes and experience thebenefits of improved diabetes control.

A nationwide contest was launchedto find people who are achieving“diabetes freedom” by successfullymanaging or controlling their diabetes.People with diabetes wereinvited to write a 250- to 500-wordessay that answers the question,“What does ‘diabetes freedom’mean to you?”

Entries were due by September 20, 2004.

The grand-prize winner was invitedto see LaBelle in concert, withbackstage access. In addition, thegrand-prize winner and four firstprizewinners were guests of honorat Diabetes Freedom Day, October28, at Philadelphia’s IndependenceVisitor Center.

At this event, people with diabetesand those who help others managetheir condition were asked to signa pledge to control their diabetes365 days a year. Patti LaBelle presentedawards to the contest winners.Local people with diabetes,healthcare professionals and dignitarieswere invited.

To learn more about the DiabetesFreedom campaign, visit the Website at

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