- Usher is speaking out about his child’s journey with type 1 diabetes (T1D).
- He hopes to spread the word about early screening for T1D.
- Early screening can help prepare parents and their children before T1D advances.
Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, and dancer, Usher, is best known as one of the most iconic R&B artists of his time.
However, when he is not wowing fans, he is fathering four children, one of whom lives with type 1 diabetes (T1D), a chronic condition that occurs when the pancreas makes little or no insulin.
In 2014, Usher’s then 6-year-old child was diagnosed with T1D after experiencing changes in weight and energy levels.
“There were noticeable differences in their appearance that led me to engage their doctor and inquire about what could potentially be happening,” Usher told Healthline.
Other common symptoms of T1D are:
- frequent urination
- blurry vision
After learning about his child’s diagnosis, Usher delved into understanding the condition. In addition to medical professionals, he turned to the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes, JDRF, and other organizations for information.
“You naturally want to make certain that your child and loved one is okay and that they have everything that they need,” he said. “I would encourage each and every person to educate yourself as much as you possibly can, to understand the process.”
Nearly a decade after his child was diagnosed with T1D, Usher has a wealth of knowledge to share.
“One very important thing to recognize is this is a very long journey…and something that you’re going to have to live with your entire life and if your child is living with it, then so are you because you do care,” he said.
Trusting your kid’s doctor and asking questions is something he learned along the way, as well as patience.
“You have to [have patience] anyway with children, period, and to have patience with the process and understand that the more you know, the more questions that you ask, the better. A lot of times, people may be afraid to,” said Usher.
Accepting the ups and downs of T1D is also inevitable.
“Understanding that you may have great numbers one day and then the next day you may have a completely different set of numbers. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow can’t be better, but we learn each day and we live each day in the present,” Usher said.
Staying hopeful may be the best lesson he has learned.
“Understand that your child can flourish and live an amazing life, but not without consideration of his or her blood glucose levels,” said Usher. “[There] is a balance; [you’re] trying to find that balance and find this consistent normalcy in a very abnormal place.”
Usher hopes that more people will have the opportunity to detect T1D earlier.
“It’s the one thing that would have helped me…[a] blood test that would have given me indication of what my child [had]…and helped me to be prepared to understand potentially before insulin was required,” he said. “That option I want to make available for people who have children that may have type 1 diabetes.”
He teamed up with Sanofi and its “The 1 Pledge” movement to drive early screening for T1D.
Screening involves a blood test to check for pancreatic islet autoantibodies associated with type 1 diabetes before the condition progresses and requires insulin.
“If two or more antibodies are elevated, that is a positive screen. Screening ideally would identify T1D in the early stages (stage 1 or 2) prior to developing the symptomatic stage 3,” Dr. Rifka C.Schulman-Rosenbaum, chair of the AACE Diabetes Disease State Network, told Healthline.
She explained the three stages of T1D as follows:
- Stage 1 T1D involves two or more elevated pancreatic islet autoantibodies with normal glucose.
- Stage 2 T1D refers to two or more islet autoantibodies and borderline abnormal glucose values, but not in the diabetes range.
- Stage 3 T1D occurs when autoantibodies progress to full diabetes status, and then require initiation of insulin.
“Stage 1 and 2 represent early or pre-symptomatic T1D, where patients would not realize they have the condition unless they pursue testing,” said Schulman-Rosenbaum.
Because people are typically asymptomatic when they are in the early stages of T1D, Dr. Caroline Messer, endocrinologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital, said screening can help decrease the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis and hospitalization at the time of diagnosis.
“It also gives individuals time to learn and plan for the future,” Messer told Healthline.
For instance, if a person has prediabetes and at least two of the antibodies associated with T1D, she said they are eligible for treatment with teplizumab (Tzield), a monoclonal antibody infusion which can delay T1D.
Additionally, Schulman-Rosenbaum, said once identified with an early stage T1D, patients can undergo monitoring on a regular basis with their doctor to see if their glucose values have elevated.
“Some patients may undergo an oral glucose tolerance test or a more basic test for blood glucose and HbA1c, while others may use continuous glucose monitoring,” she said.
They can also possibly qualify to participate in research studies, said Schulman-Rosenbaum.
Plus, once doctors know a patient has early stage T1D, she added that doctors can provide emotional support to patients and parents.
Currently, it is recommended that first-degree relatives of people with T1D should get screened because this is considered a risk factor, said Schulman-Rosenbaum.
“However, a high percentage of people who develop T1D may not have a relative with T1D,” she said. “Some studies in some areas or countries are looking into screening for the whole population, but this is not yet standard practice.”
Messer also screens patients who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but are not overweight.
The more people screened, the better, according to Usher. That’s why he is speaking out.
“It took a lot of time, thought, and consideration before I chose to open myself in this way,” he said. “I feel like through music, I’ve been able to display or to offer transparency, and it’s been very helpful, so I felt like it could only help someone to be transparent about what my experience was in association with T1D.”
Through Usher’s New Look foundation, he made a pledge to help youth, and this effort is an extension of that pledge.
“There’s for-profit work and then there’s for-passion work. I as a philanthropist have chosen to work in this space of educating youth…I’ve been working on that for 25 years, so when this very intimate and close-to-heart opportunity presented, I saw a real opportunity to offer people something that could be helpful,” said Usher.
He encourages others to get involved in the movement by taking The 1 Pledge to get screened for T1D at The1Pledge.com.