September 25th, 2009
10:07 AM ET

Nick Jonas shares his diabetes journey

By Leslie Wade
Producer CNN Medical News

I had the pleasure of meeting pop star Nick Jonas when he and his band were touring in Atlanta, Georgia, in late August. I know he's had media training and been in front of cameras for years, but I was impressed with his composure as he told me about his journey with a disease that affects one in 300 teens.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/23/art.nick.jonas.jpg
caption="Nick Jonas talks about living with diabetes."]

Four years ago Nick, the youngest member of the Jonas Brothers band, spent three days in the hospital. He'd lost 15 pounds in the previous three weeks and he and his family knew something was terribly wrong. Nick had developed type 1 diabetes - his body was no longer producing insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar into energy for our bodies.

Nick made a promise to himself that day. "My commitment to myself, when I was on my way to the hospital, was that I would not let this slow me down. And I didn't," said Nick.

Nick and his family jumped into action, learning all about diabetes and how to treat the disease. "I was devastated. I didn't know anything about diabetes, had no knowledge,” said Nick's mother, Denise Jonas. “I knew he was very ill just by looking at him."

"We had to take steps to have everyone in our family and my brother, who toured with the boys on a regular basis, trained on how to care for Nick. How to monitor him, how to administer his insulin shots, how to test his blood, how to give him a glucose shot if for some reason he passed out and went into a diabetic coma. It's a lot of work," said Denise.

After leaving the hospital, Nick was determined to write a song about his experience. But the piece didn't come together for another 2½ years. "I was having one of those days where it [the blood sugar] was out of range, things were not where I wanted them to be with my diabetes. I sat down at the piano and wrote the song and it came out in 15 minutes," explained Nick.

His song "A Little Bit Longer" seems to touch a chord in teens with diabetes, some of whom feel stigmatized and ashamed to have the disease. "He's had a great voice in helping encourage children and teenagers with type 1… to let other people know they have it,” said Denise Jonas. “I didn't realize how much of the population was ashamed."

Nick's doctor, pediatric endocrinologist Francine Kaufman of Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, California, also knows about the concerns of teens. "The real driving force for a teen is to be just like every other teen, so having anything different - and particularly a chronic illness - sets you apart and many, many of these teenagers feel it, " explained Dr. Kaufman.

Nick is trying to raise awareness and money for diabetes through the band's Change for the Children Foundation. (He's also a paid spokesperson for Bayer, which makes a device to monitor blood glucose levels.)

Nick checks his blood sugar 10 to 12 times a day and his doctor says he takes his disease seriously. "Nick does what somebody with diabetes needs to do: wears an insulin pump, worries about how much insulin he's taking, monitors his blood sugar, stays healthy and gets exercise," says Dr. Kaufman.

But if the demands of his schedule mean a skipped meal before show time his brothers sometimes have to improvise. "I just give them a look and tell them to cover for me while I go off stage and take care of some stuff," says Nick. Which usually means grabbing a little apple juice, orange juice or a bit of food to normalize his blood sugar before heading back out on stage. "All of the crew on the tour are aware that I'm diabetic and they all know how to react in case of an emergency or a situation where I may need assistance," says Nick.

And fortunately those times are rare - a testament to his promise to himself four years ago: Nick, now 17, has not let diabetes keep him from sharing his craft and living his dream. "I'm just thankful to be able to be out here doing what I love with diabetes... and if there is something that I can do personally to inspire and encourage somebody that means the world to me, " says Nick.

Question: Do you or anyone you know struggle with telling others about diabetes? Tell us your story.

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