S. Epatha Merkerson – Award-Winning Actor Turned Diabetes Activist

Her pledge to America's Diabetes Challenge


By Julia Telfer
dLife Staff Writer

The last thing S. Epatha Merkerson was expecting when making an appearance at a health fair event eleven years ago was a diabetes diagnosis, but after demonstrating a blood glucose test, a doctor pulled the award-winning actor aside and told her that her blood glucose reading was over 300. Despite having a family history of type 2 diabetes, her own diagnosis came as a complete shock.

A diabetes diagnosis can be tough to comprehend, and it was no different for Merkerson. "The information was going into my head," she recalls, "but what I needed to do wasn't really registering." It wasn't until she sat down with her doctor for a conversation about A1C and the importance of being proactive and setting goals that things started to sink in.

S. Epatha doesn't remember a lot of diabetes talk in her home growing up, just the occasional mention of high sugar here and there. She has, however, seen the damage diabetes can cause. She was 30 years old when her father passed away from complications of the disease. That's why she thinks it's so important for everyone to understand blood sugar management, and why she decided to take control of her health and reach her diabetes goals.

Since her diagnosis, Merkerson has worked with her doctor to come up with a management plan that includes diet, exercise, and medications that are right for her. "I make sure to stick with my plan by checking my blood sugar twice a day and tracking my A1C numbers every 2-3 months," she says. Her biggest challenge has been the lifestyle changes, but she is constantly "learning how to swap bad habits for good habits." She has also quit smoking and lost weight as a part of her journey to better health.

You probably recognize Merkerson as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren – the longest running African-American character in the history of primetime TV – from the hit show "Law & Order." She has said that so much of the Van Buren character reflects her own personality, especially her meticulous attention to detail. How does that impact her diabetes management? "I don't like to be bested by something," she said, while reiterating that this doesn't mean she is immune to the struggles and frustrations of living with diabetes.

When asked about being a diabetes advocate, she explains that, "One of the best things about celebrity is that it allows you to discuss and work with organizations on things you're passionate about that really matter." That's why when Merck came to her about working with them on America's Diabetes Challenge, she was happy to get on board. She likes to humbly emphasize that she faces challenges just like everyone else, and hopes that it's helpful for people to see her working through them just like they can.

The American Diabetes Association's guidelines recommend that people with type 2 diabetes have an A1C of less than 7 percent, but as Merkerson points out, nearly half of people with diabetes are not at this goal. What's her advice? Stop beating yourself up! She's learned that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your treatment plan might need adjustment. Don't let setbacks keep you down. Get back up and get back on track by joining America's Diabetes Challenge and taking the pledge to know your A1C and get to your goals. One of her favorite things about Merck's America's Diabetes Challenge is that it's also a resource for caregivers to ask questions and learn how to be a supportive team member for their loved ones with diabetes.

Want to learn more or take the pledge? Click here for more information.

Last Modified Date: July 02, 2014

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