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U.S. Surgeon General Gives Wichita Students Advice from the 'Hood

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WICHITA, Kan. - U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona whisked into Wichita on Monday, giving advice from the 'hood to students at North High School and offering support for a new diabetes project to community leaders.

Carmona made Wichita his first stop among 10 sites nationwide that are pilot projects in the Diabetes Detection Initiative. It's an effort to increase the number of people screened and treated for diabetes.

He stopped at North as part of his "50-50" program, in which he visits one school in each state. He didn't cut short his time there even though he arrived in Wichita about 40 minutes later than scheduled.

"I'm your doctor. I've got the biggest practice in the United States," he said by way of introduction to the students.

But he didn't start at the top, he said. He grew up in Harlem, one of four kids in a poor Latino family. The first time he was homeless, he was 6 years old. Like "most of the kids in the 'hood," he dropped out of high school.

The military's not right for everyone, he said, but enlisting in the Army at 17 "was an opportunity for me to leave what had been dragging me down."

When he got out of the Army, he got his high-school equivalency, went to college, then finished medical school in three years and graduated at the top of his class. Others were smarter, he said, "but I was very disciplined. I was focused."

He hoped he was giving the students a message of hope, he said, urging them to be prepared to accept opportunity when it shows up.

When he asked for questions, one student asked his position on the war in Iraq. "I want it to end as quickly as possible," he said, before adding that sometimes it's necessary to stand up and fight when no other method works.

At the Mid-America All-Indian Center, where he was joined by state and local leaders, Carmona said the Diabetes Detection Initiative is a way to focus on prevention, which has to take a bigger role in health care.

The costs of diabetes are staggering, he said, and "people of color are disproportionately affected."

In Wichita, the project will try to reach about 75,000 people who live in 13 ZIP codes. They will be asked to undergo a seven-question risk assessment and, if appropriate, to get further testing and treatment. If they're not at risk, they will be urged to exercise, lose weight or take other steps to make sure they stay that way.

The effort will be carried out by a number of community groups, including the Sedgwick County Health Department, low-income clinics and health organizations.


(c) 2003, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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