By Jennifer Mrozowski
Enquirer staff writer
Seven-year-old Jessi Martin does not always act her age.
Instead of just school and play, the Williamsburg Elementary School student spends part of her time raising awareness for juvenile diabetes, a disease that causes abnormally high levels of sugar to build up in the blood. Jessi was diagnosed with the disease at two years old and wants to help educate people about it.
Thanks to her, a group of dancers and rock bands held an educational and benefit concert Monday at the Cincinnati Museum Center to raise awareness for stem-cell research.
Jessi Martin addresses the crowd at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund Benefit concert at The Museum Center at Union Terminal.
(Enquirer photo/MICHAEL SNYDER)
Supporters of embryonic stem-cell research hope the cells could lead to cures or treatments for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, cancer and Alzheimer's. However, the issue has stirred a national debate on whether to use human embryos for research, and President Bush has called for limited federal funding.
Debi Martin, Jessi's mother, said she hopes embryonic stem-cell research could help end the needles her daughter endures daily for her insulin injections.
When asked why she helped organize the concert, Jessi had a simple answer. "To cure diabetes," she said.
The idea grew out of a meeting between Jessi and a band member of the Australian group Brother, who played at the benefit Monday.
Brother member Hamish Richardson, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 11, held a creative competition this year called "Pricks and Pumps: Living with Diabetes." Jessi, a performer with the Cincinnati Highland Dancers, came in second place in April for her 30-second video featuring the dance troupe.
"Brother encourages kids to use creative arts to cope when they have Type I diabetes," Debi Martin said.
In the video, Jessi did a battle dance and explained how she battles diabetes to stay healthy.
While planning a family trip in July, Debi saw that Brother was playing a show along their trip route. She e-mailed the group's manager and asked if Jessi could meet the band.
They saw Brother in Columbus, and Jessi later sat onstage and chatted with Richardson about their shared disease.
"They talked a little about what insulin to use - artist to artist," Debi said. Then Jessi asked if Brother would come to Cincinnati.
"The timing was just perfect," Debi said. "They have a tour they're doing for stem-cell research awareness and trying to educate people."
The band, with its mix of didgeridoos, bagpipes and drums, added Cincinnati to its Concert for Cures tour.
"The more reading we did, we saw the issue was being clouded in the country by politics, religion and rhetoric," Richardson said. "But it's pretty well agreed that the potential for stem-cell research is incredible."
While he acknowledged there are ethical considerations tied into the debate, Richardson said people should learn about it for themselves.
"We encourage people to take ownership of the issue," he said. "It holds the potential to be one of the biggest areas of medical breakthrough."
Brother joined the Cincinnati Highland Dancers, the Cincinnati Caledonian Pipes and Drums, Mad Anthony Wayne Pipe Band and local Celtic rock band Knocknagael for the concert.
To learn more about juvenile diabetes, go to www.jdrf.org.
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