Earlier this year, McKinley Johnson, a Grade 7 student at Davidson School was selected by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to be a Kids for a Cure Youth Ambassador. McKinley was among 30 confident and well-spoken students chosen from over 130 applicants from across Canada. These students were gathered in Ottawa on November 13-15 to meet with Members of Parliament (MPs) on Parliament Hill in order to encourage more support for diabetes research and awareness.
In Ottawa, the Youth Ambassadors received training and background from the JDRF on how to speak with MPs about JDRF’s top two recommendations to the Government of Canada and how to speak with MPs in order to encourage the Federal Minister of Finance to support the JDRF recommendations. In meetings with MPs, Youth Ambassadors recommended that the Government of Canada continue to designate 30 million dollars annually to diabetes research and clinical trials as well as five million dollars to be put towards mental wellness support for young people living with Type 1 diabetes.
The Youth Ambassadors as a group had the opportunity to meet with the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Health but their main work was through individual meetings with MPs. The Youth Ambassadors worked in teams of two to meet with MPs and McKinley’s partner was Bennett from Manitoba. They attended four private meetings with Saskatchewan and Manitoba MPs and made presentations to each that included telling their personal stories of living with diabetes. During these meetings, McKinley told the MPs, “If there was a cure for diabetes, I would have zero time lost in sports. I could play my hardest without worrying about going low, checking my blood multiple times or adjusting my insulin pump. I could just be an athlete!”
The MPs they met were Jeremy Patzer, MP for Cypress-Grasslands in Saskatchewan, Kelly Block, MP for Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek in Saskatchewan, Jim Carr, MP for Winnipeg South Centre in Manitoba and Ted Falk, MP for Provencher in Manitoba.
A key highlight of McKinley’s journey was meeting Dr. Jenny Bruin and hearing about the successes of her clinical trials. Dr. Bruin, who heads up the Bruin Lab at Carleton University in Ottawa, is one of the leading diabetes researchers in Canada. She and her clinical team have developed a pouch than can be surgically inserted under the skin and allows the pancreas to begin producing insulin again without the body rejecting it. Insulin, which has kept so many diabetics alive was discovered in Canada by Dr. Frederick Banting, Dr. Charles Best and Dr. John Macleod at the University of Toronto and now Canadian researchers like Dr. Bruin are among those leading the way to finding a cure for diabetes.
In the photo below, McKinley (left) with Dr. Bruin (centre) and Dave Prowten, the President of the JDRF, is holding an actual pouch that is being used in Dr. Bruin’s clinical trials. This pouch is so close to being part of the solution to make living with diabetes so much easier.
“This was an amazing opportunity to go to Ottawa and be part of the Youth Ambassadors,” said McKinley, “but what makes me most proud is that the work I am doing to raise awareness and support for diabetes research is contributing to finding a cure for diabetes.”