Alan Lefkof - Shifting Gears on Diabetes
As a busy executive of NASDAQ technology company Netopia, Inc., Alan Lefkof didn’t think he had time for a diabetes management class lasting several days. Now a corporate vice president of Motorola’s Broadband Solutions Group, he says, “I think the Teaching Center has a heck of a service – they may have a better service to sell than I do.”
Shortly after his diabetes onset in 2004, Lefkof noticed he was continuing to lose weight, even though his pills stabilized his blood sugar levels. He was referred to Dr. Umesh Masharani at the Diabetes Center at UCSF, whose tests showed his pancreas was not producing very much insulin. Dr. Masharani recommended that Lefkof enroll in one of the Diabetes Teaching Center’s insulin management classes.
“I said, ‘Oh, great, now I have to go to class,’” Lefkof recalls. “I asked if I could do a two-to-four hour intensive consultation because I travel a lot.” However, the answer was that private consultations were only available to patients who had already completed intensive management courses.
“I called Marlene [Bedrich, the program coordinator of the Diabetes Teaching Center] and got the same pitch. She said, ‘Nope, you have to attend.’ She explained that half the benefit is the whole experience of listening to others. So I marched my way to class. I had to admit she was right. It was obvious since it was so well-structured, built in and around meals. Figuring out how to use insulin is a very consuming process, and the best way is to do it together. It was invaluable.
“The best knowledge I got from the class is that it’s not diabetes that will hurt you - what’s going to hurt you is poorly managed diabetes. What the course teaches you is that if you manage it, you should have no problems. Once you’re there you realize it’s worth it. It takes a major change in daily habits to deal with the disease properly.”
For Lefkof, a major change in habits is exactly what occurred following the class.
“I’m kind of religious and fanatical,” he says. “I prick my finger 10 times a day. The class instilled that routine.”
Lefkof fit diabetes management into his travels. An avid golfer, he has had to check his blood sugar in Ireland on a golf course with 45 mph winds. “It’s pretty tricky juggling the meter and strips in that wind,” he says. Another time in Texas he wanted to use his insulin pen at a restaurant whose restrooms were closed. He went around back where police approached him thinking he was using illicit drugs.
Even after selling his company Netopia to Motorola, Lefkof still travels frequently. To keep up, he now uses an insulin pump and learned how to adjust it for changing time zones.
He is thankful for current tools to aid managing the disease. “There was someone sitting in class who’d had it for 45 years. I wouldn’t want to do it the way he did. Back then practitioners had to really shoot in the dark.”
In retrospect, Lefkof finds it peculiar that he didn’t think he had time to take a diabetes management course.
“I don’t know of another class that approaches it so comprehensively, with what foods to bring for lunch, what to eat for dinner, and checking blood sugars two hours after each meal.”
He’s become an advocate, from hosting events to offering marketing advice. “I recommended that the Teaching Center should get more aggressive on marketing themselves, especially among their happy students. There’s nothing wrong with asking, ‘Where do you work, what to you do?’ You never know who can be sitting next to you in class.”
The class gave Lefkof new confidence and a new perspective. “You see someone who’s had it for 20 years and never suffered a single side effect. The analogy I give is that my body before diabetes was a car with automatic transmission. Now I have manual transmission. I have got to shift gears myself. If you can get your head around it, it’s actually a healthy lifestyle. Other than the hassle factor, I don’t think I have any worries of issues or any side effects.”
The UCSF Diabetes Teaching Center offers 4-day intensive diabetes self management courses, 4-day insulin workshops and 2-day oral agent workshops, among other programs. For class information and schedules, visit the Diabetes Teaching Center pages.
For additional information on the Diabetes Teaching Center, please see the following link.