Miss Johnson was the keynote speaker at the Sharon Regional Health System-sponsored conference Wednesday at the Radisson Hotel of Sharon in Shenango Township. She promoted diabetes awareness, and personal responsibility for those with the disease.
"Only 12 percent of people with diabetes are consistently following the guidelines, which include testing blood sugar, exercising three to four times weekly, and watching what you eat," said Miss Johnson.
While emphasizing ways to handle diabetes, the 1999 Miss America also shared personal stories to let others know they can achieve their dreams despite the disease.
"I was told by many people to give up on my dream of becoming Miss America, because of my diabetes, that it would hold me back," said Miss Johnson. But as she held her crown aloft, she described where she wore her insulin pump during part of the competition last September.
"One of the judges asked me ... where I had put my pump. Well, I was wearing a black, tightly fitted evening gown, and wore my pump on my leg. No one could tell," she said with a laugh.
Though she is due to step down when the 2000 Miss America pageant is held Sept. 18 in Atlanta, she is proud of her accomplishments in raising awareness and battling the disease. "So far, I've been able to raise $12 million to go towards research, and I'm lobbying Congress to give more money to diabetes research," she said.
Prior to Miss America's address, Dr. Andrew Behnke, medical director of Sharon Regional's Diabetes and Endocrinology Center in Hermitage, provided extensive background on diabetes and the evolution of medical treatment of the disease.
After the conference, Miss Johnson spent time with a dozen children who also have the disease, getting a "pinkie" promise from each of them to take proper care of themselves and not to give up on their dreams.
"When I walk down the runway for the last time, I will stick up my pinkie as a reminder and encouragement to those who made this promise for me," Miss Johnson said.