Posted by: kellydh | July 9, 2007

Changing Diabetes in Chicago – Youth Report

From 21 to 25 June, 2007, the Novo Nordisk Changing Diabetes Bus set up shop at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL. I was fortunate enough to be one of the youth correspondents working on the Bus and in the Changing Diabetes Village that week. During our four days at the site, we had nearly 5000 visitors and over 450 free health screenings. Surely a great step forward in raising awareness and changing the future of diabetes.
Following is my youth report for the event, which can also be found at the official Novo Nordisk Changing Diabetes Bus website:

22 June 2007

Hello all! My name is Kelly-Dayne Hansen, and I am a member of the Novo Nordisk Youth Panel. I have had type 1 diabetes for about 5 years now, and am currently a college student in Portland, OR. I hope to help change the future of diabetes by encouraging other young people to educate themselves about the importance of healthy living. By coming together and educating each other about these issues, we can face a much brighter future.

Today was the first day of the Changing Diabetes Village in Chicago, IL. Our bus stop here corresponds with the massively large American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions meeting, and so thousands of people in the field of diabetes care have descended upon the city for the weekend. But, the attendees of the conference are not our primary audience this weekend with the Novo bus. Instead, we are set up at the entrance to an amusement park type area called Navy Pier. Here we hope to attract visitors from all over the Chicago area, including those with diabetes and those who know nothing of the disease.

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The official opening ceremony for the village this morning was well attended, and we had some interesting speakers. Chicago Bears coach and local celebrity Lovie Smith spoke about the importance of diabetes awareness, and shared an intensely personal story about his family connection with diabetes. He told the story of his mother, who came to see the fulfillment of his lifelong dream to coach a team in the Superbowl. However, the joy of the moment was bittersweet, he said, as she could listen to the announcer but could not watch the game as type 2 diabetes had stolen her eyesight. Now he is the last member in his family left without diabetes and is valiantly fighting the onset of this potentially debilitating disease.

At the village, we have free health screenings, information about diabetes, a fitness corner, free healthy snacks, and a children’s corner. Displayed in the children’s corner tent are entries for the children’s drawing contest for kids under age 12 with diabetes. Over the course of the village’s stay here in Chicago, Erik, Karen and I must choose a winner to continue on to the worldwide contest. I find it impossible to choose. Each picture tells a distinct, and true, story of life with diabetes. One that strikes me as especially moving, however, has a caption that describes life with diabetes as “going down a river: you have to go with the flow.” How true that is; sometimes life with diabetes is easy, and you do not have to paddle too hard, and sometimes life with diabetes is like trying to maneuver white water rapids.

 

Diabetes is a massive issue for Americans today. In the United States today, there are 21 million people with diabetes, and nearly a third of them are still undiagnosed. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes among youth is also growing with alarming swiftness. One out of every three children born today in the USA will develop diabetes during his or her lifetime. This statistics are at once gruesome and startling. They are a wake-up call that Americans must heed. That is why we are here with the bus. We want to be a part of that wake-up call, the initiative for change.

 

23 June 2007

Inclement weather seemed to keep the crowds away for most of the morning, but by the early afternoon we had a steady stream of people coming by to see the bus. Several families came by, kids and strollers in tow, and were quite excited about the toy Changing Diabetes buses we had, and the allure of paper and crayon was too much for many kids to resist. While the children happily played with their toys, I spoke to the parents about the bus, and urged them to take a look around and take advantage of the health screenings.

At one point, there was a whole group of kids on their bicycles that came by for some snacks and some drawing time at the Children’s Corner. They were part of a day care group that takes kids on daily outings around the city, and keeps them active and engaged while their parents are hard at work.

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Few of the many kids that came to our tent knew about diabetes. “Is that the disease where you can’t eat sugar?,” some would ask, happily licking away at their sugar-free frozen yogurt. How do you simplify something as complex as diabetes and its causes for a five-year old? “Yes,” I say, “diabetes has to do with sugar. It is when your body can’t use the sugar you eat, so it builds up inside you and makes you sick. Does anybody know what you can do so you won’t get diabetes?” I ask.

“I know!,” a little boy with crayon in one hand says enthusiastically, “eat good and run a lot.” I smile at the kids and encourage them to continue to stay healthy, and stay active. It is exciting that we have had some many young children come to visit the bus; in order to set them up for a lifetime of healthiness, good habits need to start early.

 

24 June 2007

Today definitely seemed to be the busiest day at the village thus far. When I arrived this afternoon, cool and rainy weather seemed to have kept most people away. However, as the sun came out, so did the people.

Tucked away to the side behind a grove of trees, some people had managed to miss our rather large set up. Although, the giant “unite for diabetes” circle balloon waving on the horizon about the bus was rather difficult to miss. Even in a city of 100-story buildings. So, I went outside of the village for a while and talked to people that were wandering around the Navy Pier area. “Hi, how are you doing today? Would you like to visit our diabetes village?” Once engaged in conversation, most people where highly receptive to coming to visit the village, and although the free snacks were often the first booth hit, thankfully a lot of people expressed an interest in the health screenings.

I spoke to a couple teenagers today with diabetes. One was a thirteen-year-old kid that had come with his father to check out the bus. He was only recently diagnosed-less than a year ago- but seemed to be in good spirits. We chatted for quite some time about diabetes and how he has dealt with the past year. Despite all the differences that color each of our experiences with diabetes, I still find a connection with most diabetics I speak to. There is a language of diabetes, a language of blood sugars and pumps and A1C’s and lancets and highs and lows.

Another kid with diabetes that I spoke to, Austin, also seemed very interested in the Resolution. In the end, both happily signed the resolution, had me sign the Young Voices books for them, and left with a promise to continue the message to Unite for Diabetes.

25 June 2007

After returning home from the Chicago Changing Diabetes Village, I am so inspired to continue Changing Diabetes in as many ways possible. From talking to hundreds of people during the course of the village about diabetes, it is clear to me that the best possible way to raise awareness and really create change in people’s lives is through personal communication. If we can put a face on diabetes, and show people through example what a distinctly human issue diabetes is all around the world, then perhaps we can convince each individual we reach how urgent and crucial the diabetes epidemic is. Diabetes is not something that affects only a select group, but instead diabetes is a disease that touches all of our lives.

In the immediate future, I plan to continue talking to people and writing about diabetes whenever I can. Here in Chicago I found only a taste of the human story behind the disease, and I want to follow that story even further. I want to speak to youth with diabetes in rural areas (like my home state of Alaska), and give them a voice in this global community. I want to speak with youth at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and give them a voice in the fight against that inevitability. I want to speak to other college student and encourage them to use their education as a tool to change the health of the world we are entering into. I want to talk to people. I want to tell them about diabetes.

I keep thinking about the drawing contest entries, and the one drawing about diabetes as a river. Sometimes calm and friendly, while at other times turbulent and unpredictable, diabetes really is like a swift, substantial, yet manageable river. It is a fine line we walk as diabetes advocates. I want people to know that I have diabetes, and that I am still productive and healthy and that I can still live a full life with diabetes. At the same time, I want people to know that they do not want, and need not have this disease in their future. Together, we can change the future of diabetes. We can change our bodies and our minds to create a healthy world not only for ourselves, but for our youth that will follow us.

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