Congratulations Berrie Center patient and National Merit Scholar Ken Stier, 18, who won two additional diabetes-related scholarships and will be attending Yale University in the fall. Ken, who is also a celiac patient, earned an award from the Diabetes Scholars Foundation called the Lilly Diabetes Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship. He also won the New-Jersey-based John E. Kostic Memorial Foundation award for incoming freshmen with type 1 diabetes (T1D).
At Yale, Ken, who lives in Paramus, NJ, will be a pre-med student and begin the long process of becoming a doctor—an interest that started taking hold even before his diabetes and celiac diagnoses. When he was 8-years-old he lost a fingertip on a school playground and remembers, “taking a relatively active roll in my recovery,” he said, “by changing bandages and taking out sutures and necrotic tissue. That sparked a love of medicine that I’ve been pursuing ever since.”
Ken’s diabetes scholarships recognize students who have high academic performance, participate in the community (he has been an EMT, emergency medical technician, with the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps since his freshman year of high school) and are successfully managing the challenges of living with diabetes.
Ken was diagnosed with both T1D and celiac when he was 13-years-old. “I was fortunate to have an easier time than most with my diabetes,” he recalled. “My honeymoon period lasted a solid two years so I had a very gradual transition into being diabetic.” Being a person with celiac, however, was a different story. “Celiac comes with more social implications,” he said. “So much of our culture is centered around food. Having dietary restrictions can be very problematic, especially in a school setting where people are always bringing in food for celebrations all the time. It can be difficult to adjust.”
Having celiac and diabetes, Ken believes, probably “changed my trajectory as a doctor. Yes, I knew I wanted to be a physician, but also having chronic illness and being a patient—from that perspective can lend itself to compassion and empathy that changed who I will be as a physician.”
Ken’s love of academics, he says, is likely intrinsic. “It’s a quality I’d have for the most part regardless of my life experiences because that’s how I’ve been for as long as I can remember. But I think my experience with diabetes and celiac has had some effect on me as a student. There’s a level of awareness that it comes with say having to monitor your blood sugar when you’re taking tests or even just being in class. I’m a better student for it.”
The most positive aspect of both diagnoses, Ken offered, was getting to know his nurses and doctors, especially pediatric endocrinologist Rachelle Gandica, MD, at the Berrie Center and gastroenterologist Peter Green MD at Columbia’s Celiac Center where Ken is interning this summer. “I think building those relationships with Dr. Gandica and Dr. Green was really good for me,” Ken said. “Having the opportunity to talk about what’s good and bad and mundane about diabetes, particularly mine, with Dr. Gandica has really helped me.”