Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 12. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.
As I have pivoted (in Silicon Valley lingo) my blog from its social media focus and taken a new role as Chancellor Emeritus, I’ve been ruminating on a blog name that would capture the essence of what I will be writing here.
I had considered Interesting Stuff I’m Studying, but the acronym for that title would have been…unfortunate.
I thought Stuff You Might Find Interesting (SYMFI) would be a good one. It’s reader-focused…it’s about things I think you might like. Unfortunately, there’s a drug called Symfi, and the last thing I want is to get cease-and-desist nastygrams from pharma company attorneys with trademark objections.
I finally settled on a new name that I plan to implement soon: Stuff I Find Interesting (SIFI). A couple of advantages in this one:
Truth in Advertising. The name describes exactly what I will be writing here.
In the Spring of 2008, I had some amazing things happening in my life, both personally and professionally:
I learned that our first grandchild (coming in August) was going to be a girl, and that her name would be Evelyn.
We were launching several of our early Mayo Clinic social media channels, including YouTube, Twitter and some blogs (News and Podcast) that have since been replaced by more robust offerings.
I was blogging like a crazy man, with 33 posts in April, 17 in May and 24 in June. This was peak SMUG, just after I had rebranded my blog.
But from a health perspective, I was at the start of some disturbing developments.
For several years, I had been giving blood every 10 weeks (or whatever the required waiting period was at that time.) When I went to the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center to give my unit of A+ blood (only the best!), the helpful staff would always help me preschedule the next donation.
But in the Summer of 2008, I began to notice that my pre-donation hemoglobin test, which started with a reading of something like 16, was declining a little each time.
I didn’t think much of it when it was 15, and then 14-something, but then it got to 13…and finally, in January 2009, to 12.4.
The magic of that number and why it’s memorable to me is that 12.5 is the minimum level required to donate.
I was officially anemic. They wouldn’t accept my blood.
I thought I should see if there was some underlying problem. Lisa also said she thought I wasn’t looking healthy.
I was at about 225 lbs. and playing pick-up basketball, and so I had attributed my reasonable weight (at 6’6″) as due to getting lots of exercise.
Lisa thought I was gaunt – skinny in a not-healthy way. Haggard. Cadaverous might be overstating, but it made an alliterative headline. And when you look at all of the synonyms, one of them is anemic:
So I went to my doctor, a high school classmate and great friend, Dr. David Strobel, and he started by looking for the most common causes of anemia for someone my age: namely, unexplained blood loss.
The story I didn’t tell in that post was what gluten-free eating to manage my celiac disease did to my weight.
Because I have celiac disease, eating gluten had caused my immune system to attack and severely damage the villi in my small intestine, which made it hard for my body to absorb nutrients.
I was anemic because I wasn’t absorbing iron. I was gaunt because I wasn’t absorbing other nutrients well either, even though I was eating a lot.
The good news is most people with celiac disease have their villi restored when they eat a strictly gluten free diet, and that was true for me as well.
My iron and ferritin (a measure of stored iron) levels gradually increased.
So did my weight, and not necessarily in a good way. I was eating as I always had, but now I was absorbing all of those nutrients.
By March of 2013, my medical chart says I weighed 117.7 kg, which translates to 259.48 lbs. Two years later I was 117 kg – staying below the dreaded 260 lbs. mark, but just barely. In February 2016 the charts say 117.9 kg.
But going from haggard to hefty – to the tune of 40 extra pounds – between 2009 and 2013, and then spending four years within five pounds either side of 260, and with borderline or high blood pressure, was not a healthy development.
In my next post I’ll tell why this was so frustrating for me.
The study in the Rochester, Minn. area identified 116 patients with diabetes and 232 who didn’t have diabetes, but otherwise were matched for heart failure risk factors like age, hypertension, sex, coronary artery disease and diastolic dysfunction.
Following both groups for 10 years, researchers found that 21% of the patients with diabetes developed heart failure, while just 12% of the patients without diabetes did.
So while we’ve long known that diabetes is associated with a host of health problems, here’s fresh evidence of another: almost doubling the risk of heart failure, although in this study it didn’t increase mortality.
Diabetes and its complications, deaths, and societal costs have a huge and rapidly growing impact on the United States. Between 1990 and 2010 the number of people living with diabetes tripled and the number of new cases annually (incidence) doubled. Adults with diabetes have a 50% higher risk of death from any cause than adults without diabetes, in addition to risk for myriad complications. Reducing this burden will require efforts on many fronts—from appropriate medical care to significant public health efforts and individual behavior change across the nation, through state- and community-specific efforts.
That same paper suggests that in the next decade
the total number of Americans with diabetes will increase from 43 million to nearly 55 million,
that annual diabetes-related deaths will increase by more than 55,000 and
annual diabetes medical costs will go up almost $100 billion.
It all means that preventing (or even reversing) type 2 diabetes is probably the most important thing we can do.
But the statistics are clear: what we’ve been doing as a society for the last 30 years hasn’t been working.
What I’ve been learning and experiencing over the last three years through personal investigation and application suggests that we have more ability to influence this trajectory than we might think.
I’ve read about thousands of patients with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes getting their Hemoglobin A1c levels down to the point where (under medical supervision, of course) they have been able to discontinue taking insulin or diabetes medications, and are no longer considered even prediabetic.
I know some people are skeptical that type 2 diabetes can be reversed, but given the scope of the problem it sure seems worth exploring.
If type 2 diabetes is three times as prevalent as it was a generation ago, this can’t be a genetic problem. Our genes don’t change that fast.
Since changes in our environment and behavior are likely responsible for the epidemic, shouldn’t we look at reversing those changes as much as we can, at least in our personal lives, where we have the most control?
I was never diagnosed as prediabetic, but I’ve made some significant changes and have seen lots of benefits in my own health. I couldn’t have made them all at once, but I evolved them over time.
Type 2 diabetes isn’t the only disease that seems to have potential for lifestyle prevention or reversal. Some of the same interventions seem to work in other diseases, too – mainly because diabetes, as we see in this Mayo Clinic study, is a risk factor for a host of other ailments.
It’s time now (or rather past time) to reorient it based on the fact that my career has evolved far beyond anything I could have dreamed when I gave myself the title of Chancellor.
My idea was that through SMUG I would learn in public and invite others to come along for the ride. I would develop some curriculum categories, and other communications professionals who wanted to learn to use social media could use my example as a resource.
I had a lot of fun with it, and one of the best points was when people would greet me with my self-appointed title.
But then in 2010 my employer, in response to a proposal I helped to develop, created the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, which in 2015 became the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network (MCSMN). It was gratifying that this teaching role I had created for myself on my personal blog became part of my day job.
We provide learning resources for our Mayo Clinic staff to help them apply social media in their work, and also open membership – Basic (free), Premium and Corporate – to provide access to these resources to colleagues globally. Oe of the best parts is that we also learn from them!
So while Social Media University, Global was a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek phrasing, MCSMN made that global vision a reality.
As a result, when I have written online about social media, I have been much more likely to do it on the MCSMN site instead of here. So after averaging 160 posts a year in 2009-10, since 2016 my SMUG post average has been… 3.
As of today I’m recognizing that reality, and will be coming up with a new name for this blog. I’ll probably keep the same domain name for a while at least: no one types URLs anyway, and it’s kind of a pain to switch. All of my previous posts from the SMUG era will remain available.
I don’t expect that my post volume will approach 2009 levels, but I will be a lot more regular in my blogging. Over the last three years I’ve been reading and learning a lot about health, diet and fitness that’s pretty radically different from what I had previously heard and believed.
It’s made a huge difference for me.
I’ll start telling that story tomorrow.
I’ll also use this space to write about other things I find interesting. That will be the common thread.
As Lisa and I look back on 2019 and the decade that was, and as we look ahead to what we hope will be our Roaring ’20s, we are grateful to God for so many blessings in our lives.
The reason we think the 2020s will be Roaring is mainly because last week the noise level at our house could fairly be described with that adjective. We had five of our six children and their spouses or significant others – and 11 of our dozen grandchildren – home for Christmas.
That meant with extended family on Lisa’s side we had 50 people in our house on Christmas Eve eve, and 26 on Christmas Day. We were glad that my parents, Lewis and LaVonne, and Lisa’s dad, Leonard, were among the throng. Leonard turned 89 in October, and Dad’s 89th birthday is in a couple of weeks, so it is a blessing that they’re all in reasonably good health.
Here’s the report on our descendants:
Rachel was the only one of our married children who didn’t have a new baby this year. That’s fine, though, because she and her husband Kyle already have five. Evelyn, Judah, Aletta, Mabel and Sylvia spent 10 days with us in January, as has become a tradition, while their parents took a cruise.
Jacob and Alexi had their fourth child, who became grandchild #12 because her cousin in Bulgaria came a little early. Their oldest, Graham, started school this year, while Isaac and Clara are still home with baby Julia. Jacob is a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic and lives with his family in Rochester. We’re glad to get to see them every week at church.
Rebekah and Andrew, who both work for Mayo Clinic Health System, had the first child of the year when Augustin (a.k.a. Gus) arrived in April. They live seven blocks from us in Austin, so we see Griff and Gus more than the others, but we feel blessed that half of our grandkids are members of our church.
Ruthie and Trevin left in March for their long-term assignment as Presbyterian missionaries (also in our denomination and with support from our church) in Sofia, Bulgaria. They had their first baby, Noa, in mid-July, and so she was already home from the hospital with her parents when we came to visit later that month. We also got to be present (along with Trevin’s parents) for Noa’s baptism.
Joe is living and working in Mankato. His job with Ameripride involves a lot of regional driving, and one of the benefits is a four-day workweek. He’s doing well and enjoying being beyond college life, and no longer sharing an apartment with several other guys.
John is in his final year at University of Northwestern in suburban St. Paul, Minn. He is engaged to marry a young lady from Rochester, Bella Higgins, a fellow English major he met at school. That wedding is coming in June.
In addition to our visit to Bulgaria, Lisa and I had an April-May vacation to Germany, Switzerland and Austria. And in late October, with a week of vacation to use or lose, we spent some time in San Diego.
I had another good year of work as well, with several opportunities to travel and meet with like-minded colleagues from around the world. Two of the highlights were visits to Dubai in early September for planning and then in December for our Middle East Healthcare Social Media Summit.
I ordinarily would have completed this Christmas letter before now, but I was extra busy in the last few weeks, both with the visiting clan and also in completing my first course at Western Governors University, where I’m working on a MBA in Healthcare Management. As of this morning, I’m 8% done.
When I did this newsletter at the beginning of the decade, Lisa and I had only one grandchild and had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We are grateful for so many blessings since that time, including reaching our 35th.
Here’s wishing you and yours many blessings in the year ahead!