Three months before her wedding in 1972, Debbie Nuzzo, then 19, was cheerfully preparing to walk down the aisle and start her new life. But her plans were derailed when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). She recalls, “It knocked the wind out of my sails. Our family doctor said to go home and let my fiancé know the news because he might not want to go through with the wedding.” Debbie persevered through that difficult time in her life and since then has made it her task to enlighten people about T1D.
Debbie’s fiancé was not frightened away—John, now her husband, remains by her side and is extremely supportive. They continue to confront misunderstandings about T1D, including once during a hospital stay when a misinformed nurse almost administered what would have been a fatal dose of insulin. Debbie was able to stop that from happening, but she was terribly struck by the lack of knowledge about T1D, even in a hospital setting. She says, “It’s so important for everyone, including medical professionals, to be better educated about T1D.”
When she found JDRF, Debbie discovered her calling not only to help raise awareness about T1D but also to help newly diagnosed families and individuals learn to cope with the disease. She does this by running support groups and by serving as a role model. Elizabeth Giardina Preston, executive director of the Mid-Jersey Chapter, says, “She is an amazing example of living with T1D over these many decades and achieving as many of her goals and dreams as possible. She is an inspiration to our chapter parents, allowing them to realize that their children can have full and near-normal lives and live with this disease. She is beyond inspirational.”
Over the years, Debbie has held several positions on the Mid-Jersey Chapter board, including Gala chair, nominating chair, and now outreach chair. But she doesn’t stop there. Debbie accepts mentor roles when asked, volunteers in the chapter office, helps out at events, and has attended numerous conferences, Government Day events, and Promise to Remember Me Campaign meetings in Washington, D.C.
These days, Debbie and John co-own a successful coffee house and café, a venue they readily use for connecting with others who live with T1D or who simply want to learn more about diabetes in general. JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes paper sneakers and bracelets are available, and an article from a local newspaper about Debbie’s cause hangs on the wall. Her bright pink insulin pump is highly visible, so customers often notice it and start asking questions. Debbie turns these instances into teaching moments. She says, “I’m happy to explain the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and to share my experiences. It helps others to see me healthy and active. I know I have to take care of myself, but it doesn’t rule my life. I won’t let it.”