Casey Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, died recently at the age of 30. Now, snippets of her life that we are hearing about and seeing reveal that like many other children of the rich and famous, her life was a shipwreck. Someone should do a study on why people who have so much going for them, so much of what all the rest of us want, either get into trouble and end up having to throw it all away, or die young without ever really enjoying what they had.
Casey Johnson, though, had something else besides wealth and privilege. As a very young girl she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, an incurable disease that takes constant management. Imagine her having to go through daily finger prickings in order to monitor her blood sugar level. And imagine having to think about everything you eat in order to keep your blood sugar numbers at an acceptable level. And think about having to restrict physical activity because overexertion can reduce one's blood sugar numbers to dangerously low levels. And, of course, there are the daily injections of insulin to control symptoms.
Some of those symptoms, like fainting or becoming incoherent, can result in emergency trips to the hospital, often being witnessed by peers which can be embarrassing. The growing up process unfolds in a field full of potential land mines. Puberty is a particularly disruptive and challenging time for kids with diabetes. The struggle between childhood and emerging adulthood, when the young person wants to assert him/herself, break away from family and shift one's loyalty to one's peers, can be particularly difficult because the chronic illness requires ongoing adult supervision. In addition, being different and sick can be embarrassing. Many young diabetics rebel against their illness by challenging it with careless abandon, resulting in more hospitalizations and more embarrassment.
No doubt, Casey Johnson's diabetes, as well as her wealth and name, shaped her personality. And there is some sad irony, and maybe subliminal anger in Casey, that the company that gave her such wealth by creating medications to treat so many illnesses never created one that could cure her diabetes.
But at age 30, when asked what her biggest regret was, Casey Johnson did not say "having diabetes." She said it was not doing the reality television show with her friend Paris Hilton.
I'm Dr. Blokar. For more information, click on the following resources: