US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was just seven and a half years of age when diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
During the Opening Plenary Session of the American Academy of Pediatrics in New Orleans, Lousiana, she described her experience with the diagnosis, hospitalization, and the life-changing impact of managing a chronic condition.
Justice Sotomayor told a packed audience of pediatricians that her experience in managing a lifelong chronic health condition taught her about accepting and celebrating the differences of others.
"More than 30 years ago, I was in a restaurant in New York with a friend. I ordered my meal. I got up to go to the restroom to give myself my shot of insulin," Justice Sotomayor recalled. Feeling part shame of the condition and wanting privacy, Justice Sotomayor retreated to the bathroom to administer an insulin injection. As she was removing the syringe, another woman entered the restroom. Later, as Justice Sotomayor was leaving the restaurant, she overheard the woman say to her friend, "She is the drug addict."
"I felt shame, and then something happened," Justice Sotomayor recalled. Shame turned to anger. She described the feeling as a kind of positive control anger." It is the kind of anger that propels people to speak up when they witness something unjust."
"I turned around, and I said, I am not a drug addict; I am a diabetic. The injection that you saw me take was insulin, and it saves my life every day. Please don't assume the worst in people when you see them doing something you don't understand. Why don't you just ask?"
The incident, Justice Sotomayor said, was so profound that she wanted it to be the title of her book, "Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You."
Justice Sotomayor, a Bronx native and prolific author of children's books, said, "Some conditions are visible and invisible, and they make us react to life in ways that others don't. Every one of us with a chronic life condition has to be brave. We have to be brave in order to manage our living and to engage in life fully in a way that those who don't have these conditions can," she said.
"For me, this is the book that I have had in my heart for 30 years."
Her message? Practice and teach empathy. "Don't ridicule us. Don't look at us with pity. Engage with us as human beings. Teach children to be inquisitive in an empathic way. Did it hurt? How hard is it to walk?"
During the address, Justice Sotomayor was asked questions by 5 children from 3 local schools in New Orleans, Louisiana, covering everything from the challenges of talking about diabetes to friends to describing how some of her personal experiences growing up shaped her career.
Justice Sotomayor told attendees that managing a chronic condition taught her a lot about life—from developing the work ethic and discipline to improving self-confidence to better understanding her health limitations.
For AAP attendees, Justice Sotomayor's address ranks as the first time a sitting US Supreme Court Justice has addressed attendees at the meeting. Serving as a justice since 2009, Justice Sotomayor is the first Hispanic person and third woman to be appointed to the US Supreme Court.