Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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    Archive for May, 2013

    Olympia Dukakis and Her Husband Tackle Type 2 Diabetes Together

    By on May 3, 2013 in Writing with No Comments

    Three days after a routine physical last November, 84-year-old Louis Zorich was called by his doctor and told that he had type 2 diabetes. The first words out of the seasoned actor’s mouth were “There’s been a mistake.” Louis, who’s been married to Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis for 47 years, proceeded to explain (incorrectly) to his doctor, “Men don’t get diabetes. My three brothers don’t have it, but my mother had it….It may be genetic, but only the female side of my family can have diabetes.”

    Olympia Dukakis

    Olympia Dukakis

    Louis’ doctor patiently explained that diabetes affects both men and women, that it does have a genetic component, and that he was writing Louis a prescription for a pair of standard oral type 2 medications.

    When Louis gave the news to Olympia, she immediately thought of its possible genetic consequences for their three children. “My first reaction, when Louis told me, was that we needed to let our children know,” she told Diabetes Health. “It’s important because it’s a ‘preview of coming attractions,’ and they may develop diabetes later in life. Age 65 to 70 seems to be when it hits a lot of people.”

    Recent studies confirm Olympia’s estimate: 18.4 percent of people age 65 and older are diagnosed with diabetes. But even more telling is another set of numbers: Seven out of ten people 65 and older have diabetes or prediabetes (glucose levels that are too high, but not high enough to diagnose type 2), but half of them don’t know it. This means that their bodies are already being stressed and possibly damaged as a result of high blood sugar.

    After their children were made aware of the diagnosis, Olympia and Louis kept to their busy schedules. He began rehearsals for the Classic Stage Company’s off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya, and she continued shooting scenes for an upcoming film and traveling to support causes or receive awards. But they both thought about the fact that if Louis have not been screened during a routine doctor visit, they would never have known about his diabetes.

    “I was astounded by the fact that so many people our age aren’t aware that they can be screened for diabetes at no cost, through Medicare,” Olympia recalls, “Louis and I weren’t.” Since 2005, Medicare has provided free screening for anyone age 65 and older who has a diabetic risk factor (obesity, overweight, a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of gestational diabetes). Unfortunately, only 10 percent of seniors take advantage of the free screening. Working with Novo Nordisk, both Louis and Olympia have taken leading roles in getting the word out to seniors about asking for a glucose screening. In fact, there’s a website that puts it all in three words:

    Looking back, Olympia recalls that her husband’s behavior had changed before his diagnosis. Although she hadn’t been concerned at the time, in retrospect she quickly connected the dots and realized that he hadn’t been the Louis she knew. “I can tell by looking at him,” she notes. “Now he is much more available in terms of what’s really happening. Before, I started to hear him say that he didn’t want to go to such-and-such a place or that he was too tired. I asked him about it [at the time], and we both agreed that it was probably the result of other medications he was taking. This has all changed during the past seven months.”

    Read more of Pat’s story at

    Getting Personal With Bret Michaels

    By on May 3, 2013 in Writing with No Comments

    It’s Labor Day weekend in Pittsburgh, just outside of the Steelers’ Heinz Field, and the Bret Michaels Band has come home for some hard-driving rock and roll. The 20,000 screaming fans are a generational mix, shrieking 16-year-old girls side-by-side with moms and dads who have temporarily abandoned their parental roles to dance, sing the familiar words to “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” and howl into the nighttime air. On stage is Bret Michaels, the boy from Butler, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town just an hour north.

    Bret with longtime girlfriend Kristi Gibson and their daughters Raine and Jorja. Photo courtesy of Michaels Entertainment Group / Carrie Reiser.

    Bret with longtime girlfriend Kristi Gibson and their daughters Raine and Jorja. Photo courtesy of Michaels Entertainment Group / Carrie Reiser.

    Clad in his signature bandanna and cowboy hat, Michaels is holding the microphone in both hands and seductively singing to a woman in the front rows. Then he’s off to the opposite side of the stage, pointing to a couple farther back waving the Steelers’ well-known gold and black “Terrible Towels.” He runs to the center, leaps onto the platform where drummer Chuck Fanslau sits, turns toward the audience, and launches himself into the air just as bass player Ray Scheuring and guitarist Pete Evick begin rotating in circles on either side of him. Right on cue, Michaels lands at the same time that his band mates come out of their spins, ending the hit song on a powerful downbeat. The crowd explodes with more screams and applause, cameras flash, and a sweat-drenched Michaels takes a bow. Even people out for an evening stroll along Pittsburgh’s nearby Riverwalk stop to applaud.

    Then, illuminated with a spotlight that sets his blue mohawk hair glowing, Fanslau spins a drumstick and begins a drum solo. The crowd is right with him, clapping in time as Michaels steps away from the microphone and slips behind his hard-working drummer. A drum solo is part of every band’s set list, but there’s another reason that this one is happening now. Michaels’ assistant Brian is standing backstage with a glucose meter and an open bottle of orange juice mixed with a few drops of honey. The drum solo is built into the band’s routine because years earlier, Michael had a low blood sugar just six songs into his first show as Poison’s front man at Madison Square Garden. He collapsed onstage and woke up in the hospital. There’s a second break built in later on, a guitar solo by Pete Evick, for the same reason. Michaels quickly tests his blood sugar, takes a long swig of juice, and nods to Brian that he’s in shape to go back to work.

    Bret Michaels

    Bret Michaels

    Diabetes has always been a teacher for this rock and roller, and he’s learned from his missteps that these breaks are crucial. “Sometimes if I know I’m totally good, I’ll stay up there,” he says as he relaxes in his tour bus before the show. The bus is emblazoned with the words “Bret Michaels Wants to Stop Diabetes” and a shirtless photo of him promoting the “Roses & Thorn” tour that will continue for another four months. “It looks like it’s part of the show when Pete starts playing the blues, and I’ll just walk back, and then I come back out with a different guitar. I’ll stay out there if I know I’m running at 150. But the guys in the band can see if something’s not right. They know what to look for. My eyes get a little glossy, or they’ll say ‘you have that distant look.’ I’m told it can look like I’m just daydreaming, or my skin looks a little washed out, but they know. There have been times when I feel it happening, and I’ll turn and look at Pete and say ‘I’m low,’ and we’ll go into the solo a little earlier. I’ve learned how life can catch up to me.”

    Life is always in motion around Michaels. Consider the events of just the past year: Last May, Michaels won Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” (donating the $300,000 prize to the American Diabetes Association). In August, he co-hosted the Miss Universe contest with NBC’s Natalie Morales. For three years, he was the central player in VH1’s highly rated “Rock of Love,” which has transformed into a behind-the-scenes look at his world in “Life As I Know It” (on VH1 since last October). At the same time, the Bret Michaels Band has been on tour for a year promoting their new album “Custom Built.” Next month, on his 48th birthday, Michaels’ autobiography Roses & Thorn is scheduled for publication.

    Read more of Pat’s story at

    God Bless the Walleye

    By on May 3, 2013 in Writing with No Comments

    People get excited talking about walleye, but is there a greater spiritual and political connection to this seemingly ordinary, silvery-brown fish than you might first have thought?


    Father Walleye’s dad, Richard Zajac

    One Sunday morning at St. Dominic’s Church in Saskatchewan, Canada, Father Mariusz Zajac was in the middle of his sermon about the importance of giving back, when he sensed some in his congregation were dozing off. He knew just what to do.

    “Now, a walleye doesn’t act this way …,” he began. Those seven words shot around the pews, bounced off walls, and within the time it took to say them, every eye and ear was waiting for more. You see, in Saskatchewan, Father Zajac is better known as “Father Walleye,” after catching a world ice-fishing record walleye on Tobin Lake in January 2005 that weighed more than 18 pounds.

    “It’s a way to connect [with] the whole congregation,” he says, remembering. “We send them out at the end of the service laughing and smiling, because people love the outdoors. Fishing is a positive vehicle to make a point. You know, Jesus was the greatest fisherman.”

    Father Walleye and his father, Richard, in northern Saskatchewan.

    Father Walleye and his father, Richard, in northern Saskatchewan.

    Father Zajac has used the walleye as a bridge, too. Recently he visited a senior center to offer prayers for those in need of a spiritual lift. As he approached one man in a wheelchair and introduced himself, he was met with a blank stare followed by, “Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk to you.” When someone in the room told the patient, “You know, that’s Father Walleye,” the frown became a smile, and the two talked for half an hour about fishing; they continue to do so today.

    Father Walleye gets numerous invitations from walleye anglers hoping to grab a piece of his expertise, and probably some divine assistance. He even admits to finding himself reciting the Magnificat prayer, which includes the line, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty,” and not just when he’s trying to make a holy connection. He also used that prayer when he broke the ice-fishing record.

    Walleye-Miss-River-RedWingMLike trout, there’s no shortage of people willing to tell you there’s something almost sacred about casting a lure and waiting to hook one of these rather ordinary-looking North American natives, relatives to the European pike-perch. The walleye is popular for practical reasons, too. According to Wisconsin Fisheries Research scientist John Lyons, “They’re difficult, but not impossible, to catch, so they offer a challenge. They taste great. They have trophy potential — meaning they get large, but not so big you need special tackle to land, and in the Midwest and Canada, they’re widespread.”

    They’ve gone even farther west. Umatilla, Oregon, has laid claim to being the Walleye Capital of, well, Oregon, and so far there are no other contenders for the title. “We’re on the Columbia River,” notes Mayor Pat Lafferty, who’s a Union Pacific railroad engineer when he isn’t running a town meeting, or looking for a walleye. In office since November, Lafferty has already appointed a commission to study the idea of building a city park on the river with a walleye statue at the entrance. Umatilla is home to three walleye fishing tournaments attracting anglers from Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

    Read more of my story at Boat U.S.