National Press Club

Nick Jonas: Ambassador for Diabetes Cure, Idol for Teen Fans

August 25, 2009 | By Richard Lee | rf-lee@earthlink.net

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Nick Jonas, youngest member of the teen pop phenomenon the Jonas Brothers, spoke about his daily fight with type 1 diabetes at a sold-out Luncheon Monday.

Jonas, 16, dressed in a navy suit, white shirt and dark striped tie, looked like the ultimate poster boy for juveniles coping with this life-threatening disease. He was diagnosed when he was 13. He feared he was going to die.

“My brothers were the first to notice that I’d lost a significant amount of weight, 15 pounds in three weeks,” he said. “ I was thirsty all the time, and my attitude had changed. I’m a really positive person, and it had changed during these few weeks. It would have been easy to blame my symptoms on a hectic schedule, but my family knew I had to get to a doctor. The normal range of a blood sugar is between 70 to 120. When we got to the doctor’s office, we learned that my blood sugar was over 700. The doctor looked at me and said, ‘This is something that you will have to live with for the rest of your life.’ ”

His three-day stay in the hospital included “a crash course on getting my blood glucose levels in control and living with diabetes.

“It was like something out of a movie,” he added, “and you feel bad for him, but you never think it’ll be you, that was me that night. I made a commitment that night that I would not let it slow me down.”

The “something good” that came out of this was going public with his story, which has inspired others to believe they can live with it, too. He is now a role model for children with diabetes, a celebrity ambassador for Bayer Diabetes Care, part of the Bayer Group, a global enterprise for healthcare and medical products.

He and his brothers, Kevin and Joe, started the Jonas Brothers’ Change for the Children Foundation through which they donate funds for diabetes research, education and treatment. This includes a dog tag program to raise money. Nick Jonas wears one.

He has met with President Obama and testified before Congress in June to spotlight the ongoing research. He has written a song about his diabetes, “Just A Little Bit Longer,” which he says is the favorite of his compositions to date. He wrote his first song when he was 6.

Jonas credits his two performing brothers, “my best friends,” he said, and his parents, who are also musicians, for being the steadying influences in his life as he deals with the complicated demands of life on the road as part of a hot young band, which can be even more complicated when you are a diabetic. His father, Kevin Jonas, is also manager for the Jonas Brothers, and was on hand Monday for his son’s brief speech and the many questions NPC President Donna Leinwand fielded from the audience after his remarks.

A significant number of his young female fans were in attendance, many accompanied by their parents. They were asked not to scream, shout questions or rush the dais for a closer look at their idol. They didn’t.

Jonas said he checks his blood sugar “about 10 to 12 times a day. I try to, at least. I’ve been very good about it lately.”

Any activities he misses out on because of the disease? “I’ve had to be cautious about sports, things like that, just making sure I don’t go too hard before a show,” he said. “I’m a very competitive person. So the ping-pong matches before the show can be pretty heated. But, just making sure I keep it in control and know where I’m going before I go on stage.”

Any limits on food when you’re traveling and performing so much? “In the beginning, it was a little bit difficult. Luckily now, we travel with our own catering, so they give me the carbohydrate facts before every meal that I eat and make sure that I know what’s in the food so I can properly manage it. Diabetes is manageable. You can pretty much eat whatever you like, you just have to make sure you take the right amount of insulin for it, and you only do it in smaller portions. It was difficult at first, walking through a grocery store and seeing the candy aisle and know that I obviously shouldn’t have that, all of it. But I get a lot of sugar-free snacks and stuff from fans, which is great, very sweet. Makes me feel loved.”

Ever missed or had to cancel a show because of diabetes? “The only time we’ve ever had to cancel a show was because of weather,” he said. “ But no illness. Diabetes has never caused us to cancel a show, thankfully.”

The best, and toughest, things about being a rock star? “Wow. I think being able to play every single night in front of so many people. We remember the days when there were 10 to 15 people at shows, and those were the moments when we would say, ‘Living the dream,’ kind of sarcastically. Last night we played in front of 20,000, which was amazing. It was definitely living the dream in the good sense with a smile on our faces. So it’s great. I definitely love it.

“There are some early mornings and some late nights sometimes, that can be a little difficult,” he added. “I like to sleep, so waking up so early can be tough. But you know that you’re going to get up there and play in front of your fans every night, and that’s what matters.”

Any musical idols? “I’m a big fan of Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Prince. Those are all big ones for me,” he said. “And then Stevie Wonder, of course. Definitely a big inspiration.”

Will he get his own action figure doll? “I don’t know. I hope so. Joe had one, he had like an action figure, it’s more like a Barbie. And so that’s why I’m a bit concerned. As long as I look like a G.I. Joe, I’m fine.”

Does he have a girlfriend? “I do not, actually,” he said.

Would he ever consider dating a fan? “I didn’t know I was going to get in this suit today and have to, like, talk about that kind of stuff. But, definitely, that would be great,” he said. “We always say we hoped the person we date would be our biggest fan. My brother, Kevin, actually is engaged now, which is great for him. He met a wonderful girl from New Jersey, she’s kind of a normal New Jersey girl who he fell in love with, and it’s great. That’s the kind of story that I’d love to have as well.”