Monday, September 22, 2008
Elliott Yamin opens up about his diabetes and how he's using his fame to help others.
Elliott Yamin was a third-place finalist on season five of American Idol. Soon after his audition, viewers learned that Yamin, who hailed from Richmond, Virginia, came into the competition without any vocal training. More impressively, this rhythm and blues performer was practically deaf in his right ear due to his battle with Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, a condition he was diagnosed with when he was 16. He was considered the underdog in the competition and the media didn’t hold back -- viciously criticizing his imperfect teeth (a result of his diabetes). Yamin outlasted much of the competition, finishing third and releasing a very successful first single.
Thankfully, Yamin recognized the power in his celebrity and shared his battle with diabetes with the world in hopes of raising more money for research. He partnered with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to bring awareness to the disease. He and I had the chance to talk some time ago for another project and I wanted to share this interview with you.
I realized I could be a positive voice once I got to Hollywood, but I didn’t realize the true magnitude of the show and the exposure I was going to get from it right way.
When he was younger, Yamin admits he wasn’t always the positive, easy-going persona he grew into later, the personality that America fell in love with.
I struggled really hard in the early stages of my diagnosis and I’ve seen some hard times, all self-inflicted of course.
Elliott admits to not taking care of his health when he was younger. He was 16 and he was working part-time at a scale company, often feeling lethargic, but the teen blamed it on what most teens need at that stage in their life, ‘more sleep.’ His health deteriorated and he found himself urinating almost every half-hour. Finally concerned enough to tell his mother, Claudette Goldberg, who was a Type 2 diabetic for years, Claudette broke out her glucometer (a blood sugar measuring device) and uncovered the truth about her son – Elliott’s sugar level was extremely high and she needed to get him to the hospital immediately. He stayed there for three days. Diagnosed with diabetes at an age when most teenage boys are focused on jobs, school and girls, Yamin found his diagnosis hard to handle.
That’s a tough age to begin with anyway, just to be 16. Most of my friends were getting their driving licenses and I was learning how to give myself insulin shots with a syringe.
The teenager fought through his mixed emotions – the discontent, the denial, the anger.
I didn’t want to believe that I had it. I just didn’t understand how I could just go from feeling okay one day and then the next day just having a life-long disease. It was a tough pill to swallow for me at first because I just didn’t want to believe that I really had to take care of this the rest of my life.
The denial led into rebellion and, when he was 17 years old, he stopped taking his life-saving insulin for a week, leading to yet another hospitalization. Yamin had also suffered from numerous diabetic seizures as a result of low blood sugar and reactions to his insulin.
Today, thanks to medical research and inventions, Yamin no longer needs to give himself daily insulin shots. Instead, for the last seven years, he wears an insulin pump, a device for delivering the medication directly into his system. The pump is worn outside the body, usually attached to a belt or waistband. Insulin is pumped from a reservoir through a catheter inserted under the skin of the abdominal wall. Handling his diabetes while tour was difficult, affecting both his sleeping and eating schedules. The pump is more conducive to that lifestyle, he says, and he hasn’t had a seizure since in years. Today, Yamin advocates for research funds.
There’s never enough until there’s a cure. I think we could always be doing more and we could use the money that’s raised a little more wisely.
I want to find out exactly how research is being conducted and how we’re spending the money and why we’re not getting any closer to a cure.
His fans reacted positively to his efforts by donating to the JDRF in his name.
My fans are interested, and they aren’t even diabetics, but everyone knows a diabetic it seems. It’s become more prevalent over the past 10 years obviously, so they got really behind me.
He suggests fans learn about the disease through the JDRF website (www.jdrf.org).
Just like people learn how to save people when they’re choking, there are things you can definitely learn to help a diabetic out when their blood sugar gets low and they can’t help themselves, so just learn about the symptoms and you know,” he advises.
Today he advises other teens going through what he went through to treat their diagnosis as a new challenge.
Life is always full of challenges; some have more obstacles than others. You have to really just set your mind to it and make sure you stay on top of it. I didn’t do that. I was more rebellious and I just didn’t want to believe I had it. And that’s the thing I wished I could’ve changed. I wasn’t that headstrong at that age either, so that played an important, that played a role in it too. But I would just say just to face it head on and learn as much as you can about it and just pay attention to the details because it’s a very meticulous disease. But as long as you do that, you can live a long, healthy life and do whatever it is you set your heart to do, you know.
There are things greater and bigger than the music business. I’m always going to be a grounded person and I’m always going to remember where I come from and how it all started and to me, I just feel a certain responsibility. I can’t help it. I have to do positive things with these opportunities that I’m given. To me, it’s very fulfilling to me. It’s almost as if I’m supposed to be doing this. You know, this is what I’m on this earth to do, is to bring joy to people via music. And there’s so many important things that that allows me to do as well.
Photo: Elliott sings "Promise to Remember Me," at the Children's Congress in June 2007 in Washington, D.C.