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Obama’s Court Nomination Draws Praise From Diabetes Advocates

May 27, 2009

President Obama’s Tuesday nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has set loose a wave of support from diabetics and diabetes advocacy groups across the country who see her has a role model for people suffering from the disease.

In an official statement, the American Diabetes Association said that her nomination showed that “each person with diabetes should be judged based on his or her merits, not on stereotypes or misinformation about diabetes.”

If the Senate confirms Ms. Sotomayor’s nomination, the 54-year-old judge from the Bronx will become the first Hispanic appointment to the nation’s highest court, the third woman, and the first justice known to have Type-1 diabetes.

Sotomayor said that her childhood hopes of becoming a police detective were crushed after finding out at the age of eight that she had Type-1, or “juvenile” diabetes, adding that the disease also played a role in directing her into the legal profession.

“If I couldn’t do detective work as a police officer, I could do it as a lawyer;” she told the New York Daily News.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that results in destruction of insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, which in turn prevents the body from producing  normal amounts of insulin, the hormone responsible for breaking down sugars in the blood stream. It is an inherited polygenic genetic disorder, meaning that a number of different genes contribute to its expression.

Patients with diabetes frequently suffer from heart, kidney, eye and nerve dysfunction as well as necrosis of extremities.  The disease is also associated with a shorter life expectancy, though improved medical technology in recent years and a better understanding of the disorder have done much to close this gap, especially among those who closely monitor their condition.

“As this process moves forward, the diabetes community expects that Judge Sotomayor’s nomination will be evaluated based on her qualifications and years of experience “” and not her diabetes.  To evaluate her in any other way would be a disservice to the United States,” said officials with the ADA.

Of the 30,000-40,000 new cases of Type-1 diabetes diagnosed annually, roughly half are under the age of 18, said Bill Ahearn, director of communications for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

In 2008 there were approximately 24 million people with diabetes in the United States alone, though only about 5-10 percent of those are Type-1 sufferers””the rest having the non-inherited Type-2 form of the disease.

In a telephone interview, Ahearn referred to Sotomayor’s nomination as both “a teachable moment” “” because it provides an occasion for the broader public and the nation as a whole to become better informed about the disease “” as well as “an exemplary moment,” as it proves to those who suffer from the disorder that they too can accomplish great things.

“This is important particularly for those kids who have the disease and are looking at a life of very strenuous management of that disease,” which frequently includes multiple daily injections of insulin, persistent monitoring of blood-sugar levels, and often rigid dietary restrictions, explained Ahearn.

Sotomayor’s nomination provides “a great example moment for those kids” to be able to understand that diabetes “is not the barrier that some would think it might be to achieving what you want you want in life,” added Ahearn.

On the official website of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the group has posted a hall of fame list of well-known personalities who have suffered from diabetes, including BB King, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Image Caption: President Barack Obama and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor walks into the East Room where Obama announced Sotomayor as his Supreme Court Justice nominee to replace retiring Justice David Souter, at the White House in Washington on May 26, 2009. If Sotomayor is confirmed she would be the first Hispanic women to serve on the Supreme Court. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)

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