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The DX Diabetes Dish: Max Szadek

“Glam more, fear less” d-advocate on life as ‘Mr. Divabetic’

The DX will regularly feature The DX Diabetes Dish, a profile about life and life with diabetes. This month, we dish with Max Szadek, founder and executive director of Divabetic. Divabetic is a national nonprofit organization inspired by the late R&B legend Luther Vandross who had type 2 diabetes, and also by women living with, at risk of, and affected by diabetes. Szadek, known as “Mr. Divabetic,” was Vandross’s longtime personal assistant. He brought Divabetic to life in 2004, promoting diabetes prevention and education with a highly original ‘glam more, fear less’ philosophy.

What is your state of mind today?

Sunshine state of mind – living in the Big Apple.

What three words would you use to describe who you are?

Happy. Healthcare. Host.

Why is diabetes your passion?

The fact that diabetes silenced the voice of my former boss, Luther Vandross, is why I do what I do. It puts a fire in my belly every day to strive to create new, unique ways to learn about diabetes.  Although I have a family history of diabetes, I was not prepared or aware of how serious diabetes can be. Each day, I try to motivate someone like me to become more informed in order to keep him or her healthier.

If you could take away one aspect of diabetes, what would it be?

The potential shame that people may feel.

What inspires you to do what you do?

Luther Vandross is an endless source of inspiration. My memories of working with him on tour inspire me to make diabetes education entertaining. He was such an incredible performer and the way he put together his live stage shows (music, costumes, choreography, lighting) always pushes me to try harder. The amazing feedback I’ve received, from “Divas” young and old, as well as educators, inspires me to keep pushing the envelope in health education. When someone walks up to me at an outreach and says, “I get it: Divabetic is all about attitude!” I can’t wait to run home, roll up my sleeves and start creating more new concepts.

What do you appreciate most in your friends?

Laughter, honesty, respect, creativity, and a healthy perspective on life.

What would you pack for your favorite vacation?

The “fruit” suit, a bow tie and brightly colored ruffled tuxedo shirt! To me, work is a vacation. I love working on an outreach program and helping to motivate people to stay healthy and upbeat about their care.

What’s in your refrigerator right now?

Granny Smith apples, Red Delicious apples, cherries, bottles of water, tomatoes, onions, a bottle of Champagne, white wine, ground turkey, jalapeños, natural peanut butter, Diet Coke, olives, Italian salad dressing, iced tea and coffee, whole wheat everything bagels, eggs, and provolone cheese.

What is your favorite way to relieve stress?

A long, tough tennis match in Central Park or any other form of exercise that really makes me sweat.

What is your idea of happiness?

The laughter that comes from gathering with my Divabetic team members, friends, and family at a fabulous restaurant to celebrate presenting diabetes outreach.

What do you most dislike?

Itchy wools. Anything that makes me itch drives me nuts.

What words do you try to live by?

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

What is your greatest fear?

Getting stuck in New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel for several hours.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I purchased the American Music Award that Luther Vandross won for recording “The Impossible Dream” at his estate auction. The song continually inspires me to keep trying when I feel down.

On what occasion do you lie?

When people ask me if I like being bald, I always say “yes.” But honestly, I’d kill to have a full head of hair again!

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

We’d all live in the same city.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Luther Vandross taught me to go after my dreams. My parents taught me to stay true to myself. My grandparents taught me courage.

What would you choose for your last meal?

Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, Greek salad, fresh strawberries, and sangria.

All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the interviewee and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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