Catching Up with Miss America—Nicole Johnson's Crusade for Diabetes Awareness

| Apr 1, 1999

Nicole Johnson: Congratulations. I saw Scott King's letter in Ann Landers. How wonderful that it was published.

DIABETES HEALTH: And congratulations to you. Your letter was published the next day. Together we educated 90 million people about diabetes.

Q: You attended "America's Promise" in Knoxville, Tennessee, during February. What happened there?

A: That was not a diabetes-related event, but it was a health-related event. I was there to support General Colin Powell's national organization to help children. One of the five things that they strive to provide for children all over the country is a healthy start in life.

I was involved in Knoxville's volunteer kickoff program, promoting community service and asking adults to get involved in children's lives by being mentors, volunteering in their communities, and helping bring something special into the lives of youngsters. Part of that, in providing a healthy start, is getting medical professionals to volunteer time to people that can't afford medical care.

I went to a community center, and helped children repaint their center, to make it something they can be proud of. I also went to read to kids at a local Boys' and Girls' Club center. I love kids.

Q: What happened at Diabetes Incorporated in Rapid City, South Dakota?

A: Diabetes Incorporated is a new diabetes group that is striving to help fund research for diabetes, push legislation, and all the things that the other two major groups do.

South Dakota is in the middle of a situation with legislation. Presently they're not getting insurance coverage for diabetes supplies and education. I wrote the governor a personal letter while I was there, and spoke with some legislators. Then I spoke with a few different groups about diabetes, encouraging them to volunteer their time and donate money, basically encouraging them to get involved in funding research and helping advocate on behalf of diabetes.

I had the opportunity to meet with some children while I was there, at a hospital. All the children have diabetes and they were able to ask me any questions they wanted regarding diabetes and being Miss America.

Q: What did they ask?

A: They were cute. They wanted to know a lot about the insulin pump. People are always really interested in that. One little girl-she was so cute-was 4 years old, diagnosed with diabetes a month before. While we were doing the question and answer session she came right up to the front of the room and wanted to see this insulin pump. She was so sweet.

The children also want to talk about complications and daily maintenance. We always wind up discussing life goals and dreams and how we can work together to make them a reality.

Kids that I met with in Knoxville said, "Oh, so you're the queen of America?" Then, "So, if you're the queen of America, why didn't you drive up in a limo?" Kids want to know those kinds of things.

Q: The Diabetes Research Working Group recently gave its report to Congress. What have you heard about that?

A: I know some of the researchers involved from Joslin. I am hoping to be one of their testifiers. The group is trying to educate Congress on what's out there in terms of finding a cure for this disease, how likely is it, and what kinds of steps the government needs to take in providing the National Institutes of Health and the different research foundations more federal dollars to find this cure so that we can alleviate this yearly 100-billion-dollar burden from society.

The group was established because the lawmakers recognized that diabetes was claiming one in every five Medicare dollars and one in every seven health care dollars. Once they saw those figures, they perked up and said, "We've got to do something." That's why this group was formed. It was largely because of the work from the very important people who represent us, Representatives George Nethercutt, R-Wash., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., the chair people of the diabetes caucus. They're the ones who spearheaded the work group.

Q: What areas are you rooting for in the government funding?

A: I definitely want to see increased funding. We've seen a little bit of an increase over the years, but it hasn't really been proportionate to the growth in the medical industry-the growth of the number of people who have diabetes and the amount of money that's being spent on the disease. And, it's not proportionate in terms of how much money is spent on other diseases. Now, I'm not an advocate of taking money away from any other disease. I'm just an advocate of balancing the scales a little bit.

A cure is in sight, and with some more funding, we'll be able to find it.

Q: Are there areas within the diabetes funding pot where you would particularly want to see research done? As a type 1, certainly you'd be interested in islet research?

A: I'm really interested in the islets. It's really touchy with what's going on right now, including the controversies with the stem cells. I don't think there's a problem there, but I understand how people without all of the facts could be a little hesitant. I would like to see some more money put in there.

Also, with funding, I think we need things that are very easy, like some national campaigns on lifestyle choices, on eating right. We have this barrage of fast food commercials and things like that. Why can't we have some commercials promoting vegetables and fruit, and other healthy choices. We need to get that information ingrained in the minds of young people, so that they grow up thinking about more than cheeseburgers and French fries.

Q: We have a frustration as a news magazine. We hear from people who are visually impaired, who want to see our news magazine in Braille, or some other way they can get access to the information in our magazine. That's something we struggle with. Another thing that comes up is markings on insulin bottles in Braille. Have you heard about this issue?

A: No, I haven't really thought about that. I would suggest contacting Lilly and Novo Nordisk, since they both manufacture insulin, to see if they can do something. I'll look into being a voice for those visually impaired individuals. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, and these people need to be taken into account.

For the visually impaired person, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to have the Braille on the bottles of insulin, because somebody else would have to be drawing it. But I can certainly see the issue for publications, like yours, because people need information.

Q: What's been the greatest thing for you in February?

A: The greatest thing about this month has been just sitting on the floor with kids and talking to them, listening to their cares and concerns and, hopefully, providing them with a little motivation in the process.

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Apr 1, 1999

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