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Audience volunteer Yolanda Smith, of Vallejo, left, watches as celebrity TV personality and fresh produce advocate Chef Curtis Aikens prepares a meal during a healthy cooking demonstration held at a free diabetes education event at John Muir Medical Center in Concord, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. The event featured health screenings, medication reviews and educational presentations by physicians. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

CONCORD -- At least two people attending the Diabetes Health Fair at John Muir Medical Center in Concord featuring TV celebrity Chef Curtis Aikens found it to be a potentially lifesaving event.

Pharmacist Michael Gonzales with Diablo Society of Health System Pharmacists was "precepting," or mentoring students from the University of the Pacific while they performed blood glucose screenings.

"The screening is for people who may be at risk based on blood sugar numbers," he said. "We had two patients who needed extra attention."

The patients identified with the abnormal blood sugar readings were immediately referred to the hospital.

"Extremely high glucose levels or extremely low glucose levels is potentially dangerous," said Teresa Halperin, with the pharmacists' group, who along with Contra Costa Pharmacists Association and Novo Nordisk A/S sponsored the event.

More than 200 people and some 150 volunteers attended the fair, which included screening booths, eye exams, review of medications and lectures by physicians.

The featured guest was Chef Aikens, one of the founding hosts of Food Network.

His charismatic personality ricocheted around Diablo Cafe located on the hospital's main floor as he spoke about his personal experience with the disease.


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"My father lost his life when he was 72," Aikens said, adding that diabetes played a major role in the recent death of his brother to cancer, and took the life of his mother and both sets of his grandparents.

He invited everyone to support each other, friends and family members in managing their diabetes.

"Are you tired of hearing me talk? Would you rather I go cook?" Aikens asked to a round of applause.

"I like to have fun in my kitchen," he said before selecting volunteer Yolanda Smith of Vallejo from the audience, who said her mother had diabetes.

"This is the best thing we could have done today," she said.

Ingredients for a meatless gumbo and a spinach, strawberry salad were ready to go, and Aikens began cooking, answering questions, and in 30 minutes, had a two-course meal ready to go.

As samples were handed out, Aikens walked among visitors with a microphone, allowing people to share questions and helpful tips with each other.

Diabetes is the primary cause of death for 71,382 Americans each year, and contributes to the death of 231,404 Americans annually, according to the National Diabetes Association 2013 revised fact sheet.

"Diabetes kills more Americans every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined," reports the association.

Additionally, it reports in 2012 the total costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States were $245 billion. Of that, $176 billion was for direct medical costs and $65 billion in reduced productivity.

The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in the United States has increased by 128 percent from 1988 to 2008, and if current trends continue, one in three people will have diabetes in 2050.

Halperin said there are plans to hold another fair next year.

"I would like to have it again," said Jim Mejias of Concord, who has lived with diabetes for 20 years. "The people were very friendly and I'd say fairly knowledgeable."

Learning about diabetes
People can take advantage of John Muir Health's free diabetes classes that include preparing for the holidays. For more information, visit www.johnmuirhealth.com or call them at 925-941-7900 and select option 3.