Diabetes Forecast

Paul and Mira Sorvino: The Power of Support

The veteran actor learns to control his type 2 diabetes with help from his Oscar-winning daughter

By Tracey Neithercott ,

Paul Sorvino

Known For: Goodfellas, Law & Order, Romeo & Juliet, and The Cooler
Current Work: Kill the Irishman, a film about the war between the Italian and Irish mobs set in the 1970s, is set for release this spring.

Paul Sorvino likes food. Case in point: The veteran actor owns his own company, Paul Sorvino Foods, which produces Neapolitan pasta sauces in the Sorvino family tradition. Like his character Paul Cicero—the mob boss in the movie Goodfellas who had mouths watering while shaving paper-thin slices of garlic for a prison feast, wiseguys-style—Sorvino is a masterful cook. So when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he tried to tackle the disease his own way. Sure, he'd still eat the carb-heavy meals he'd grown up with—he's Italian, after all—but he'd follow them up with a few extra pills. There was only one problem: The actor, now 71, didn't have his diabetes under control.

Enter his daughter, Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino. She has educated herself about diabetes and motivated her father to modify his meals—replacing regular pasta with a low-carb kind, for one thing—and to add more exercise to his day. But most of all, the actress, 43, serves as a crucial support system. Together, the father-daughter duo proves diabetes control is possible—especially if you have someone by your side.

Mira Sorvino

Known For: Mighty Aphrodite, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, and Mimic
Current Work: Her latest film (Like Dandelion Dust, which was out in theaters last fall) tells the story of a young boy whose happy life is disrupted when his birth parents come back into the picture.

Diabetes Forecast caught up with the actors as they promoted Diabetes Co-Stars, an awareness campaign backed by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis that underscores the importance of finding a diabetes support network.

Tell me a bit about your diagnosis and your initial reaction.

PAUL: I went about a year feeling fogging in the head, always thirsty. I was going to the doctor for another reason, and the doctor took a blood sample. He said to me, "You have diabetes." We started a treatment regimen. I was a little bit in denial for a while. I took the medications, but I don't know if I was any good at it. I was playing games with it, like: OK, I'll have that ice cream and will take an extra couple of pills.
MIRA: Before, he was reacting to his blood sugar variations rather than controlling them. Now he preemptively is keeping them in check.

What lifestyle changes did you need to make?

PAUL: I don't eat bad things. Luckily there is a low-carb pasta available, which for Italian-Americans is a real boon. If they can't eat pasta, their whole lifestyle becomes difficult.
MIRA: It's all about empowerment, taking control of a situation that could be bad and turning it into a positive change. All the changes he's making now are going to pay off in other ways.
PAUL: If you can accept the responsibility of taking care of your own blood sugar, you can be very healthy. Not every ill comes to destroy you. It can make you healthier.
Food is an important part of your life and Italian heritage. How do you reconcile the foods you love with a meal plan designed to help control diabetes.
PAUL: In my company, we're going to be producing pasta. We're going to make it in Italy. One of them I want to do is my own brand of Sorvino low-carb pastas.

Mira, what was it like when your dad was first diagnosed?

MIRA: When my father discovered that he had diabetes, he didn't really tell us at first. He mentioned it and downplayed it.
PAUL: The men of my time were supposed to be tough men. To admit to yourself that you have this is not easy. But what we're doing now [in getting the word out] is very helpful for people like me.
MIRA: He had me over to his house one day and made pasta fagiole. He served me some, and he ate a big plate. He sort of slumped in his chair. I didn't know what was happening, and I was very afraid I was going to have to call the paramedics. He went to his room to lay down, and took some of his medication. He was pretty sure it was a high blood sugar episode.

What areas of your dad's diabetes do you think you've been able to help the most?

MIRA: Growing up as a child, food is love and mangia, mangia! There are a lot of fried things, a lot of cheese, pasta—not at all healthy. We've completely shifted the role food has in our homes. I'll make a giant salad with all sorts of interesting ingredients, truffle oil. So it's not just a basic salad. I encourage everyone to go for a walk after dinner. It's a new thing, and Grandpa gets to walk with the kids on the beach.

What difference did Mira's support mean to your diabetes management?

PAUL: When everybody's in on the caper, it's very hard to stray. Nobody's putting things in front of you.

How do you manage your diabetes now?

PAUL: I use the [insulin] pen. It's extremely convenient. I don't really have to worry too much about the day. When you're on this type of a program, you can live a very healthy life. I've always exercised, but now I make sure I don't go more than two days without exercise. I've had to make a big change in how I eat, and that's OK. It's not difficult for me to cook in a way that doesn't injure me.

What inspires you to work hard at keeping your blood glucose stable?

PAUL: I want to see her children [go to college]. I want to be there for them. The most important things are being there for your family. Without doing what I'm doing, I'm not going to have many more of those moments.

How do you see the role of family members and friends of people with diabetes?

MIRA: I love my father more than anything, and I want him to be around for my kids' kids, my grandkids. It's so important for the people who love people who have diabetes to help them exercise and eat right. It can mean the difference between sickness and health.
PAUL: Don't be afraid that you're burdening them. This is a problem. That's what families are for. Diabetes can be a formidable enemy if you don't take the right steps.



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