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Like 24 million other Americans, Sonia Sotomayor has diabetes. The White House says Sotomayor, who is 54, has had her diabetes under control for decades. She monitors her blood sugar and takes insulin shots. Even so, given the fact that Supreme Court appointees serve for a lifetime, diabetes is one topic that is likely come up at her confirmation hearings. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.
JOSEPH SHAPIRO: When President Obama introduced Judge Sonia Sotomayor he talked about her inspiring story. About the child of poor parents from Puerto Rico who grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx.
President BARACK OBAMA: It's my understanding that Judge Sotomayor's interest in the law was sparked as a young girl by reading the Nancy Drew series. Then the president mentioned a less noticed part of her story, her medical history. And that when she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight, she was informed that people with diabetes can't grow up to be police officers or private investigators like Nancy Drew. And that's when she was told she'd have to scale back her dreams.
SHAPIRO: But Sotomayor didn't scale back her dreams and the president made her diabetes part of her compelling life story. Sotomayor has type 1 diabetes, that used to be called juvenile diabetes because it's mainly diagnosed in children and young adults. But both type 1 and the more common type 2 are found in people of all ages. People with type 1 diabetes live on average seven to 10 years less than others…
Dr. PAUL ROBERTSON (Endocrinologist, University of Washington): But to automatically jump to the conclusion that it's going to shorten her life span, of course, is not at all fair.
SHAPIRO: Dr. Paul Robertson is with the American Diabetes Association. He says the shorter life span happens when some people with diabetes don't take care of themselves. But with proper treatment, Sotomayor and others can live long lives.
Dr. ROBERTSON: Well I think the pertinent question is, how is she dealing with it? How is she taking care of it? Is she doing a good job? Those kinds of questions make sense because you would ask the same questions with somebody with a chronic disease like heart disease or cancer or leukemia.
SHAPIRO: Robertson, an endocrinologist, says treatment now is advanced and easy.
Dr. ROBERTSON: You can handle your diabetes. It's just basically you need to do the right things. You need to check your blood glucose, make rational decisions about how much insulin to give yourself and do it. So it's not rocket science these days.
SHAPIRO: The fact Sotomayor is open is something new. Political scientist David Atkinson at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, says even recent and current members of the high court have kept their medical issues hidden.
Mr. DAVID ATKINSON (Political Scientist, University of Missouri): Chief Justice Rehnquist was very reluctant to disclose his health difficulties. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not initially disclose her cancer difficulty but subject to a certain amount of media pressure, she began to do so.
SHAPIRO: He is referring to Ginsburg's colon cancer in 1999. But earlier this year, Ginsburg was quick to go public when she was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor. William Rehnquist died in 2005 after battling thyroid cancer. Atkinson says Sotomayor's health problems are mild compared to those of other justices.
Mr. ATKINSON: The consensus seems to be that this is not a disqualifying kind of ailment. You know, after all, John Paul Stevens was put on the court by President Ford after he had open heart surgery. And Justice Stevens has served for a very long time on the Supreme Court.
SHAPIRO: Still, people with diabetes say they often have reason to hide their condition: sometimes they face discrimination. Just last week, a federal jury found the FBI had discriminated when it refused to hire a man with type 1 diabetes. One diabetes blog said the Sotomayor nomination showed that people with diabetes now can break the glass ceiling for chronic illnesses.
Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.
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