I’m often impressed by people who possess a sense of passion and purpose, a seemingly unerring guidepost that keeps them motivated to move forward, often to the benefit of others. I see examples of this every day in the diabetes community, in people such as Manny Hernandez, Cherise Shockley and Lee Ducat. I find their dedication and determination inspiring. Quinn Nystrom is another such passionate go-getter and I’m pleased to share her story with you today.
When Quinn was 10, her 5-year-old brother Will was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and she immediately took up his cause. “I chose to commit my life to helping however I could to help find a cure for diabetes,” she said. “At that age, that meant going around to classrooms in elementary school to help educate other kids about the disease and knocking on neighborhood doors, raising funds for the local diabetes walk.”
Two years later, Quinn’s cause became even more personal when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes herself. “The day I was diagnosed was the worst day of my life, but it was also the best day of my life,” she said, “because in the end, diabetes has given me a purpose and a passion to live each day of my life for the better. I ended up redoubling my efforts to want to do anything I could to help find a cure for this disease and to help the quality of life of people living with diabetes.”
In 2002, during her junior year in high school, Quinn applied and was selected to be the American Diabetes Association (the Association) National Youth Advocate. This opportunity brought her to speaking engagements across the U.S., including the White House. While meeting with Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, to talk about diabetes, he invited her to the White House the next week.
“That was thrilling for me, a small town girl from Minnesota, to be on the South Lawn of the White House to see the President, with Al Roker on the other side of me,” she said. “Who knew that diabetes advocacy would get me a spot at that table, just because I wanted to speak out about a cause that is important to me, and people actually listened.”
While speaking at diabetes camps across the country on behalf of the Association, Quinn found herself inspired. “It was so cool to see other kids similar to me who were just living everyday life with diabetes,” she said. “It was so inspiring to me and really propelled me to continue the work that I was doing. That was when I was 16. I just turned 28 and it still inspires me today. The kids from those diabetes camps and the stories they told me played such a large impact on my life. It really taught me what was important in life, and what wasn’t important in life. It gave me a great perspective of living with diabetes.”
In 2013, Quinn founded Dateline Diabetes, a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation that provides support for young people living with type 1 diabetes. The inspiration for the name Dateline Diabetes is based on a journalism term, where a dateline indicates a story’s point of origin. “The whole thought is that everybody with diabetes has their own story about where they come from, where their story starts,” she explained.
Part of the foundation’s purpose is to provide scholarships to diabetes events. “When I went to diabetes camp and met other people my age, that’s where my perspective on diabetes really changed,” Quinn said. “But when I was National Youth Advocate, I realized that so many kids don’t have the opportunity to go to camps because of the financial burden. I started Dateline Diabetes to help young people to be able to attend a camp, a retreat, or, say, the Friends for Life conference and have the opportunity to meet and engage with other people with diabetes to help change their perspective.”
Dateline Diabetes also provides Baskets of Hope to those recently diagnosed with diabetes under the age of 25. The Baskets contain a writing journal and pens, plus information on diabetes resources. “They’re just kind of a nice care package,” she said. “I think that when you’re diagnosed, people feel very overwhelmed. To me, it’s important to feel like there’s life after a disease diagnosis. My biggest hope is to empower kids right when they’re diagnosed to accept the terms of it and to be empowered from day one.”
Those interested in applying for scholarships or a Basket of Hope can do so on Quinn’s website. “We would love to have as many applicants as possible and be able to fill as many as we can,” she said.
The foundation is funded in part by proceeds from Quinn’s newly released book, “If I Kiss You, Will I Get Diabetes?” “The book is my perspective on how I’ve chosen to live life with diabetes,” she said. “My hope is that it gives other people hope and courage. I wanted to write a book for my 13-year-old self, the book that I would have wanted to read.” The title of the book was inspired by a question posed by Quinn’s senior prom date, and is included in a chapter on diabetes misconceptions Quinn has encountered.
Becoming a diabetes advocate can start in small ways, says Quinn. “People could start by simply volunteering to go into their local club or service organization and tell their diabetes story or talk about a diabetes-related issue and help raise awareness of diabetes in their own community. Another way is to sign up on the American Diabetes Association’s website to receive email alerts any time diabetes legislation is going through Congress. The Association provides tools for you to send emails to your members of Congress to support these diabetes issues.”
Finally, Quinn encourages people to look for opportunities to educate. “I think this can be very difficult but when people ask you those awkward, ignorant type questions, take those opportunities to educate somebody about diabetes right in that moment,” she said. “That’s a way to be a diabetes advocate. Even if you’re just educating that one person in that moment, you’re hopefully changing somebody’s perspective. I think anybody who you educate, even that one time, may be forever changed. They may no longer go around continually saying ignorant comments about diabetes because now they have a different perspective.”
I admire Quinn’s passion and spirit; I could have talked to her for hours. She has such a delightful and positive perspective, and seems determined to put it to good use. I can only imagine what lies ahead for her. Many thanks to Quinn for sharing her story.
All the best,
Disclosure: Quinn Nystrom received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.