A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can be daunting at any age. For children and parents alike, the initial fears and unknowns can be overwhelming. One of the most common questions asked by children diagnosed with type 1 and their parents is, “Just what is possible with diabetes?” The answer? Just about anything you set your mind to.
And nowhere is this more evident than in four remarkable students with type 1 diabetes who were among this year’s recipients of the Lilly Diabetes Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship through the Diabetes Scholars Foundation.
Each one of them exemplifies success through their individual strength, drive, and passion. These young adults also possess an unyielding willingness to help others through community service and advocacy. We are proud to feature the stories of these remarkable teens who refuse to be defined by their disease. We hope you find them inspiring as you continue on your own journey with diabetes.
Dan was a typical 15-year-old boy. He played football and baseball and spent his winters working as a ski instructor for kids. There was just one thing that set him apart from his classmates: He felt like something wasn’t quite right with his health, but he didn’t know what. So when Dan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it came as a relief. Finally he knew what was happening with his health.
Dan could have let his diagnosis get him down, but that wasn’t in his nature. Instead, he was determined to take control of his disease. “I remember my parents constantly worrying about my future,” Dan says. “I know it was hard for them to wait and worry about what might happen and what could go wrong, but I wanted it to be my thing to take care of — my responsibility.”
Since his diagnosis, Dan has been an active participant in the JDRF Walk to Cure events, helping to raise $13,000. He also volunteered for the Riding on Insulin ski camps, where he used his skills as an instructor to help encourage children with diabetes.
“I was a teenager when I was diagnosed, so I never experienced what it was like to be younger with the disease. Even so, I felt like I really connected with the kids at ski camp,” he says. “Every question I ever had about diabetes — every worry — these kids had, too. What’s more, I was able to share my dreams with them in a way that allowed them to see what might be ahead for them if they worked hard. On the slopes we were all in it together, and I knew I made a difference.”
Now a student at Northeastern University in Boston, Dan looks forward to all the experiences that come with college. “It’s time to switch things up and try new things,” he says. This includes joining Northeastern’s chapter of Baja SAE, a group of mechanical engineering students who design, build, and race an all-terrain vehicle. “I like the idea of building things that last. Engineers are responsible for amazing things, and I know I can do that, too.”
Of his award, Dan says, “This scholarship really validates everything that I’ve worked for and shows what’s possible for people with diabetes. People do care about kids like me and believe, as my parents do, in what I can achieve. I was honored and humbled to receive this award.”
“Diabetes is a challenge, but with a challenge comes the motivation and courage to succeed. With that motivation, no challenge can slow you down.” –Dan
When Hannah was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 15, she didn’t know anyone else who shared her disease. With no one else to educate her classmates, she quickly learned that she needed to stand up for herself to make sure her needs were met.
“No one was ever mean or inconsiderate when it came to my diabetes,” she says. “But there were times I knew I needed to work a little harder to succeed. I’ve known people who didn’t get it, but I took them aside and told them what I had to do and how diabetes would affect me in certain situations. You just have to speak up.”
That drive and willingness to be open served Hannah well in high school. Her senior year, she completed a monthlong school internship at her local JDRF chapter. There Hannah helped coordinate Kids Walks at elementary schools to raise funds and awareness of diabetes.
But Hannah’s desire to give back goes beyond fund-raising. As Hannah begins her premed studies at Cornell University in New York, she looks forward to exploring new opportunities and finding ways to give back to the diabetes community.
“It’s an honor to receive a Lilly Diabetes scholarship through the Diabetes Scholars Foundation,” Hannah says. “Having diabetes has given me an insight into the world of caring for others. I want to give back through work that will help children and families. I know someday when I’m a pediatrician, a young girl just like me will walk into my office, and I will have to deliver a diagnosis that will change her world. I know in my heart that my experience will allow me to tell her that everything will be okay, to tell her in a real way that will help her understand that her life isn’t over. That’s an enormous responsibility that I’ve been preparing for my whole life.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you have diabetes.” –Hannah
Jane’s passion for politics is deeply rooted in her personal life with diabetes. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 5, it wasn’t until fourth grade that she realized there wasn’t a cure. Jane determined right then and there that someday she would make a difference.
“I was a trailblazer in a sense, being the first kid in my district with type 1 diabetes,” she said. “But I was never shy about it, never kept it a secret. Every year I would educate my teachers about my needs and try to demystify diabetes for my peers.”
Having diabetes, she says, made her very independent. When Jane realized how much influence the government has over the issues and technologies that can impact her well-being, such as stem cell research, her vision of her future became clear. Jane’s work with JDRF, including participation in the 2009 JDRF Children’s Congress, along with two internships with her state’s senior legislators, helped drive her interest in supporting diabetes issues at the government level. This passion led to opportunities that allowed her to work on the Obama re-election campaign, where she had the ultimate experience of shaking hands with the president.
Jane attends the University of Pennsylvania where she is pursuing her political science passion. “Wherever I end up, whether it is a job on Capitol Hill or a nonprofit, I hope I can help the government work for others.”
“Don’t be afraid to use misunderstandings about diabetes to help teach people.” –Jane
From an early age, Jason’s parents emphasized openness and independence. Diagnosed at age 4, he remembers his dad teaching him to give himself injections using an orange and practicing on his favorite teddy bear.
“I have always been open with others about my diabetes,” said Jason. “I played basketball in high school and told my teammates and coaches about diabetes so they would know what it was, what could happen to me if I went low while playing, and how to help.”
But for Jason, being open isn’t limited to simply explaining to others what diabetes is. It means telling them how important it is to find a cure. As a ninth-grader, Jason sent a letter to President Obama regarding the renewal of funding for stem cell research. He then pursued work with JDRF, speaking at its annual gala and events to share his story and encourage funding for diabetes research. Jason was also selected for the JDRF Children’s Congress, where he participated in discussions with his state’s elected officials regarding the Special Diabetes Program, a program to advance type 1 diabetes research and fund treatment, education, and prevention programs for American Indian and Alaska Native populations.
“When my mom heard that I received this scholarship, she was overwhelmed with emotion and incredibly proud of my accomplishments,” Jason says. “Like most parents, my parents spent many days and nights worrying about me and my diabetes. To get this scholarship and move on to college to pursue my dreams proves the importance of finding the positive possibilities even in seemingly hopeless situations.”
These days, Jason is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where he plans to study finance or economics.
“It has always been a dream of mine to have a cure for diabetes,” he said. “That is why I’ve been an advocate and, whatever career lies ahead for me, I will work to make a difference.”
“Don’t let diabetes define you; don’t allow it to stop you from pursuing your passion or dreams.” –Jason
Since 2004, the Diabetes Scholars Foundation has supported activities related to education for children with diabetes through scholarships for diabetes conferences and higher education.
It’s the only foundation that funds college scholarships for students in the United States with type 1 diabetes. The scholarships recognize those who are actively involved in the diabetes community, have high academic performance, participate in community and/or extracurricular activities, and have demonstrated that they are successfully managing the challenges of living with diabetes.
“There is something very special about each young adult who applies to the Foundation,” said Mary Podjasek, president, Diabetes Scholars Foundation. “And this is one small way that diabetes can actually be an advantage.”
For additional information about the Diabetes Scholars Foundation and scholarships, visit Diabetesscholars.org.
Visit LillyDiabetes.com to learn about the many ways in which Lilly Diabetes provides support for families with type 1.
Photo credit: Jason: Cathy Pinsky at Pinsky Studios
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.