Kingston Heritage News - For a young person, making the transition from high school to university or college is never easy. Add in a chronic condition like Type 1 diabetes and the process becomes even more complicated.
But Sammy Johnston has never let her Type 1 diabetes hold her back, and it’s hard to imagine the Regiopolis Notre Dame student will be anything other than a happy, active member of the student community when she heads to Queen’s in the fall to study music.
“I just kind of accept that it’s something that I have to do,” Sammy says of her daily tasks of testing blood sugar, counting carbs and pumping insulin from a pump that is constantly attached to her. “And you have to stay positive. Once you let it bother you it just makes it so much harder.”
Sammy was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight, but over the last 10 years she has excelled at figure skating, acted and sang in Regi musicals, and played clarinet in her school’s concert band, travelling to New York City (twice), Orlando, Chicago and Washington, DC, to perform. Along the way, she achieved top marks and was able successfully manage her diabetes.
On May 26, Sammy’s achievements were recognized when she was given a Diabetes Hope Foundation Scholarship for $2,500 at a Toronto ceremony. The award, presented to 40 youths each year, recognizes young people living with Type 1 diabetes who have an unwavering commitment to managing their health. The youths must also demonstrate academic and extracurricular success, and this year all recipients were in the top three per cent of all students in terms of achievement.
“It’s a really good feeling to be recognized for putting in the effort that I give every day living with diabetes,” Sammy says. “Especially because Type 1 diabetes is something that affects children, it’s nice to recognize all the work that we’ve put in as children; now we’re kind of transitioning to adult life and it’s good to have help with that.”
And it wasn’t just the money and the recognition that made the scholarship ceremony a special experience.
“It was really cool getting to talk to other people with Type 1 diabetes,” Sammy says. “They were people my age who go through the same things every day. It was almost like there was an instant connection with them. We would tell each other stories that only we would understand.”
Indeed, one aspect of the scholarship is that each recipient gets paired up with a mentor from their postsecondary school of choice who is also living with diabetes.
“It’s not just a scholarship, it’s training young people [to go] from living at home with their parents to taking more of a responsibility for themselves,” explains Sammy’s father, Hugh Johnston. “They say a lot of young people have good control of their diabetes at home, but for many of them when they move out on their own, their control isn’t as good. That’s not a good thing for their long-term health, so this mentorship program and other programs are meant to help that.”
In a few years, Sammy will then mentor another Diabetes Hope Foundation Scholarship recipient who is attending Queen’s; for now, she is confident she will be able stay focused on her dreams while maintaining her commitment to managing her health at university.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and not let it bother me,” she says. “Obviously a lot more of the responsibility will be on me that has kind of been shared with me and my parents for the past 10 years so that will be a bit of an adjustment. But I’ll get used to it and just accept that it’s something I have to do.”
Diabetes Hope Foundation was created in 1999 by the current chair, Barbara Pasternak, who has three children, two of whom live with Type 1 insulin dependent diabetes. The foundation was created to fill gaps in the health care system related to youths with diabetes and help families struggling with the financial and emotional challenges of children living with diabetes; their programs reward, empower and provide peer education and support for youth in transition. Since its inception, the DHF has given out more than 500 scholarships as part of its mission to help and support youth living with diabetes. For more information on the foundation, visit www.diabeteshopefoundation.com.