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DIABETES EMPOWERMENT FOUNDATION LAUNCHED AT THE 2015 STUDENTS WITH DIABETES CONFERENCE!

AMERICAN IDOL STAR CRYSTAL BOWERSOX, AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR KYLE COCHRAN, MISS AMERICA 1999 NICOLE JOHNSON and OTHERS INSPIRED ATTENDEES TO PURSUE THEIR DREAMS!

TAMPA, FL – Held for the 5th consecutive year, the 2015 Students With Diabetes™ Conference (#SWD2015) brought together more than 160 young people from 103 cities across the nation from May 22-24, 2015, to learn, connect and empower one another to pursue success and achievement in life.

The Conference served another important purpose in launching the Diabetes Empowerment Foundation,™ whose mission it will be to address the needs of those living with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) at every stage of life. The genesis of the Foundation was Students With Diabetes, founded in 2010 to meet the needs of college students. Yet to similarly meet the needs of those students who have moved into post-graduate life, Young Adults With Diabetes™ (YAWD) was created, with members of that organization in attendance at the SWD2015 Conference. The Foundation also includes Just for Partners, Diabetes Parents and Diabetes Moms, the latter for T1D women considering motherhood.

The Foundation and its programs were inspired by Nicole Johnson, DrPH, Miss America 1999 and Director of the Bringing Science Home program at the University of South Florida, who has lived with T1D since 1993. “For far too long,” Johnson said, “a variety of sub-populations within the diabetes community have been neglected, leaving them isolated and disconnected from educational, career, relationship and other opportunities. The Foundation will strive to help T1Ds at all the critical stages of their lives with support and resources to help them achieve more than they thought possible.”

Beyond hosting an annual conference, SWD has grown through both social connectivity and the power of word-of-mouth marketing to include local chapters in more than 100 college communities nationwide, as well as a successful national internship placement program that helps T1Ds as they transition from college life to the professional world. “It’s both exciting and rewarding to place these exceptional students in professional settings that allow them to begin their careers in powerful and relevant ways,” said John Swanston, who runs the SWD internship program and will serve as the Executive Director of the Foundation.

Among the variety of experts and featured speakers/performers during the three-day event were:

  • Kyle Cochran, a T1D since the age of 5 and competitor on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior for four seasons, who spoke about achieving competitive success despite the odds stacked against him and inspiring attendees to achieve their own dreams.
  • Ed Damiano, the Boston University professor who invented the Bionic Pancreas and Dr. Ellen O’Donnell, who wore the artificial organ as part of a clinical trial. Both reported on the progress being made in perfecting the Bionic Pancreas and one day soon making it commercially available to anyone living with diabetes.
  • Jill Weissberg-Benchell, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, co-author of Teens with Diabetes (2014), who spoke about the psychosocial aspects of diabetes, body-image issues and the phenomenon of “diabetes burnout.”
  • Trisha Poretti, RN and Certified Diabetes Educator, who used her humor and wit to speak about the “lighter side” of diabetes. Poretti has just published her first book, entitled The Sweet Blessing: My Adventures in Diabetes (2015)
  • Nicole Johnson, founder of SWD and author of Young Adult Type 1 Diabetes Realities (2014), who led a number of discussion groups, most notably one about pregnancy and diabetes.

But perhaps the highlight of the Conference occurred on Friday evening when T1D Crystal Bowersox, star of Fox’s American Idol (2010) and successful recording artist – Farmer’s Daughter (2010) and All This for That (2013) – coached groups of attendees in writing and performing songs about diabetes (to view the videos, go to http://bit.ly/1AMry1w), then performed a number of her own songs for the crowd.

“The most amazing thing happened during Crystal’s performance of ‘Stand By Me’,” Johnson explained. “The students, young adults and supporters spontaneously created a human circle around the room during her song, literally standing arm in arm and singing along with Crystal. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.”

The spontaneous expression also inspired the Conference’s production company, DCE Productions to create a challenge scholarship for the 2016 SWD Conference. “For every ‘Share’ of Crystal’s performance and the students’ demonstration of solidarity, which is posted on our Facebook page, (to view the video, go to https://www.facebook.com/DCELive), we will donate $1 to SWD scholarships, up to a total of $10,000,” said Paul Harris, CEO of DCE.

Reflecting on the three-day event, Johnson said, “This year’s SWD Conference was packed from morning until evening with science, empowerment and fun” (to view Conference photos and Facebook posts, go to https://www.facebook.com/StudentsWithDiabetes?ref=hl). The first SWD Conference was “cobbled together” in 2010 with just less than 20 attendees. “In five years, we’re more than eight times larger,” Johnson said, “and sadly had to turn people away because we simple couldn’t accommodate them with food and lodging.” She said her team has already begun planning the 2016 Conference and will be ready for any student, young adult or supporter/partner/spouse who wants to attend.

Johnson said the future looks very bright for the Diabetes Empowerment Foundation, which will now begin to aggressively pursue programming in each of its niche areas. “There are many support groups and organizations in the diabetes community,” she said, “but I can’t think of one that does what we intend to – and that is to anticipate and meet the needs of T1Ds at every stage of life.”

1.25 million Americans live with Type 1 diabetes, 85 percent of whom are over the age of 18, but have typically lived with it for the majority of their childhood and adolescence. Each year, about 20,000 people under age 20 are newly diagnosed. The demands of living with T1D can be disruptive and stressful, illustrating how young people with diabetes and their families have a number of stressors that those living without diabetes do not experience. Often feeling isolated from their peers, people with diabetes experience higher rates of depression and other emotional problems, typically 2-3 times greater than others.

Conference sponsors included Novo Nordisk, The Patterson Foundation and AstraZeneca.

For more information, contact:     John Healy, 312-286-9801

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