Students with Diabetes National Conference 2013

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I truly believe this was an experience of a lifetime! The conference was hosted in beautiful Tampa, Florida by the even more beautiful Nicole Johnson (Miss America 1999). This was the 3rd year the conference has been held and this year was by far the largest. About 30 people attended the Leadership Academy and about 120 attended the National Conference. The National Conference was preceded by a two day Leadership Academy. I was fortunate enough to attend both and got to spend a total of four days in Tampa.

The Leadership Academy was so informative and it catered towards qualities that would help with leadership in any career or life path. Dr. Ade Troutman spoke about ‘Leadership in Health Policy’, he showed us a documentary called ‘Unnatural Causes: Is inequity making us sick’? It was very real and it taught me a lot about the state of public health in this county. He provided the shocking statistics that, 50 million people are underinsured in this county and compared it to Taiwan where 99% of residents are insured. He also informed us that research shows that the most impactful factor of health is one’s zip code, not individual behaviors.  He shared his belief that, “we have to convince people that health is a basic human right”. I strongly agree with this statement and I am inspired to see someone working at it diligently. Tye Manor, author of Forget Patience, Let’s Sell Something, spoke about how to be a leader. He also shared his story on success and spoke about his personal motivation, his family. He was a brilliant speaker who captured everyone’s attention. He shared some quotes that I plan on referring to again in the future. I am a ‘quotes person’ so I wrote them down and decided to share them here.

“Things may come to those who wait, but only things that are left by those who hustle”. – Abe Lincoln

“The weakest ink will outlast the strongest memory” – Confucius

“A decent plan violently executed today is far better than a perfect plan carried out next week”. – Unknown

“I missed 100% of the shots I didn’t take”. – Michael Jordan

“If your easy on yourself life will be hard on you, if your hard on yourself life will be easy on you and far more rewarding”.  – Zig Ziglar

Deborah Johnson, a NovoNordisk employee, spoke about qualities it takes to be a great employee. The qualities she shared with us were particularly applicable to the Students with Diabetes Interns and will be useful as we begin our internship opportunities this summer. I learned a lot about health policy and diabetes advocacy from Tom Boyer. He currently works in government affairs for Novo Nordisk. He began his career with an internship and had some very insightful tips he emphasized the importance of confidence, relationships, and discipline. We then heard from Ethan Lewis creator of Level Glucose Gel, Olivia Stacy creator of Legacy of Love, and Martin Wood author of the blog Dietetically Speaking. It was great to hear the stories of these ambitious people who have acquired much success in giving back.  To conclude the leadership academy, Nicole Johnson spoke about how to be a leader at home and incorporate all that we had learned into our everyday lives.

The National Conference kicked off with an inspirational welcoming speech from Nicole Johnson, I think everything that girl says is inspirational.  We then heard from Sabastien Sasseville, a fellow type 1 diabetic, he spoke about his astonishing accomplishments of climbing Mt. Everest, completing a run in the Sahara Dessert, and multiple ironman triathlons. His speech was humorous and left me feeling like there isn’t anything that I cannot do as a type 1 diabetic. That night we had a blue party and shot an informational video for Students with Diabetes. It was a blast, everyone dressed in blue to represent diabetes awareness. The next morning we had a bootcamp/zumba class taught by Jmiah and other very fit Type 1 diabetics. It was a great way to start the day.  Bill Polonsky, with a PhD in psychology spoke about diabetes realities and relationships. He overviewed the obstacles of diabetes and shared the stories of some of his clients. He also reassured us with the research result on type 1 diabetics. Some of the statistics he shared included that Type 1’s that have been diagnosed for 30 years have less than a 1% chance of getting eye problems, kidney failure, or retinol replacements. For me this was a relief to hear, I feel that in the past many of my doctors may have exaggerated the complications, and it was great to hear the facts. Overall, Dr. Polonsky’s speech was consoling and uplifting.

The group of Students was then split up into three groups, Type 1 girls, Type 1 boys, and the attending friends of Type 1’s (also known as Type 3’s). The Type 1 girls group heard from Dr. Yankowitz and his coworker, they spoke about Type 1 diabetes in pregnancy. They also brought three Type 1 mothers or mothers to be to share their experiences. I learned so much about pregnancy! I honestly knew very little about it before this speech and was so comforted to know that Type 1 diabetics can have healthy pregnancies. They detailed the medical approach that they use during pre-conception, each trimester, and post birth. They also talked about the chance of having children with type 1, which was MUCH lower than I expected. Then they gave advice on birth control types that would have minimal effects on blood sugar. I am so thankful for this talk because I learned more than my current doctor would ever be able to tell me. I now feel comfortable about my possible future as a mother (as opposed to being too scared to even find out if it were an option).

After the group reconvened, we heard from Tom Boyer again about diabetes advocacy and how we can play a role in helping improve policy. Aaron Kowalski, also a Type 1 diabetic and a researcher, spoke about JDRF’s less until none approach for technology. The idea is that they aim for less and less care needed to manage diabetes until none is required. He spoke about work on the artificial pancreas and how close we are to a closed loop system. This system is available in every country in the world but the USA (this fact made me half-jokingly contemplate moving back to Britain until the FDA can figure out what’s going on). He then spoke about glucose responsive insulin and explained the mechanism of how it works. He also mentioned encapsulated islet cells and how that may be the ultimate cure.  During his speech he presented the statistic that the average A1C for college students with type 1 diabetes is an 8.6. This left me feeling like I have been doing a great job at keeping my blood sugars balanced and was ever so encouraging.

After a break we heard from Jmiah, a type 1 diabetic who used to be a fitness model and now spends his time inspiring teenagers to take control of their health. He shared his life story which I found quite interesting because his diagnosis story was quite similar to mine. He was upbeat, positive, and left me inspired to become healthier. Then we heard from Michele Laine, a Type 1 CDE and nurse practitioner who also teaches Zumba classes. She spoke about her practice and taught a short fitness class. She was a lot of fun! We then had a luau at Clearwater beach and didn’t let the rain stop us from having a great time. The next morning began with a Zumba class followed by a motivational speech from Nick Hall. Nick Hall has his PhD and works at the University of South Florida. He was a captivating speaker and taught us that to rearrange our circumstances we must simple just change our beliefs. To me this translated to diabetes can be seen as strength and positive feature if you believe it can be (or something to that effect). This challenged me to start thinking more optimistically. Nicole concluded the amazing week with a closing speech that inspired everyone to take Students with Diabetes home and help other Type 1 diabetics in need of universality.

The people I met attending this conference were as meaningful to me as the speakers. Not only did I get to know the other interns I will be working with at EOShealth this summer, but I met so many other wonderful people whom I can relate with. The more type 1 diabetics I meet, the less lonely in the fight against diabetes I feel, and that is something to celebrate. My take home from this conference was that Type 1 diabetes does not leave any of us in a negative place; it simply leaves us with the opportunity to grow and help others think more positively about our disease. To me, this conference was an experience that made the hardest part of my life easier, and for that I will always be grateful. I feel so blessed to be a part of this incredibly opportunity and can’t wait to attend again next year.

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