Angela Bassett chats new health campaign

Angela Bassett’s latest starring role is a personal one.

The “American Horror Story” actress is the face of a new health campaign aimed at spreading awareness about the link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“It’s a critical moment because heart disease is the leading cause of death associated with diabetes,” said Bassett, who joins 11 patient and professional organizations in the initiative, called For Your SweetHeart. “I know that personally.”

In 2014, Bassett’s mother, Betty Jane, who had type 2 diabetes, died of heart disease at the age of 78.

According to the American Heart Association, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than those without; at least 68% of people ages 65 or older with diabetes die from heart disease. People with diabetes, especially type 2, often have high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and obesity, which can increase their risk for cardiovascular disease, according to the association.

Despite this link, a majority (52%) of adults with type 2 diabetes do not know of their increased risk for heart disease, a recent survey by pharmaceutical companies Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly found.

Bassett is featured in the educational campaign, sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly, with her mother’s brother, Ralph Gilbert, who has type 2 diabetes. amNewYork spoke with Bassett about her involvement.

This has a personal relevance to you because of your mother. What would you like to share about that?

My mother, my sweetheart, she developed type 2 diabetes late in life, and subsequently also heart disease. She passed away three years ago from heart disease. At the time, my family and I, we weren’t aware of the link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease and how critical that link is. But you can reduce that risk. There are steps you can take by being in touch with your doctor and health care provider.

What does patient advocacy look like to you?

It’s standing along with someone, linking arms, leaning on one another — that’s what we do for our family members. It’s just plugging in and making your voice heard, and your loved ones’.

Knowing your family history, how do you manage your health?

I always attempt to do those things I know I have to do, whether it’s exercise, moderating your diet and seeing your doctor. I think that’s a good prescription for most.

Have you done health campaigns before, or is this a first for you?

It’s a first for me because this one is just so close to my heart. I lost my mother three years ago, it still feels like yesterday. When Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly approached me, along with 11 other patient advocacy groups and doctors, it was just an easy yes for me. Not only my mother, who succumbed to it, but also my uncle lives with it daily. I’ve learned about the link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and how it can lead to stroke or even death. But I know through my uncle that by managing your risk and seeing your doctor and taking advantage of resources like you can get on foryoursweetheart.com, you can manage it and thrive and be around for your loved ones.

How do you see the campaign helping people manage their type 2 diabetes?

It makes it easier, because for some people it’s uncomfortable to have those conversations. It’s having a conversation about health and life and what you need to do, because once you have that awareness, then you can act on it.

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