By: Jenny Drenkard, BSN, RN, CDE – MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
This summer, AADE selected me for a fellowship opportunity to attend the Children with Diabetes (CWD) Friends for Life (FFL) conference. The AADE fellowship mirrors the program offered by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists to introduce early career professionals to the type 1 diabetes community. I am a rather “newly minted” CDE, having just received my certification last year. At this time, the patient population I serve in my clinical role is primarily composed of people with type 2 diabetes. As such, I have been eager to gain exposure to the world of type 1. I now know that there is no better place to better understand life with type 1 diabetes than FFL.
When I first arrived at the conference in Orlando, a friendly face at registration noticed I was a “first timer” and simply said – “I hope you have tissues with you.” Boy, were they right! Throughout the days I spent there, I was brought to tears many times. Never before have I attended a work conference that moved me the way this one did. The passion and emotion that permeates through the CWD leadership, staff, presenters and families in attendance, who have all been touched by type 1 diabetes, was overwhelming. It was an experience that you have to witness to truly understand.
FFL was started by two parents, Jeff Hitchcock and Laura Billetdeaux, when they were both trying to make sense of their young child’s recent diagnosis of type 1 diabetes back in the 1990s. Understandably, learning that your child has diabetes is as daunting as it is isolating. This conference was born in an effort to create a community of families affected by type 1 who gather annually to laugh, play and learn. Since then, the conference has grown to attract over 1,500 attendees who either have type 1 or love someone with type 1.
FFL humanized type 1 diabetes for me. I realized very quickly that type 1 diabetes does not have to be a setback. With some determination, children with type 1 can do anything that children without it can do-they are just regular kids. It warmed my heart to see kids gallivanting around the hotel grounds wearing their pumps and CGMs with pride.
I also quickly realized that type 1 diabetes is taken on by the whole family. I sat in on sessions with parents, grandparents and researchers, and even got to co-teach a session on nutrition for children with AADE past president, Tami Ross. I was moved to learn how heavy the burden of worry can be for a parent through each phase of their upbringing. Some of the most touching moments were hearing families who had just learned about their child’s diagnosis in the few weeks or months prior to the conference interact with other families who have been coming to the gathering for years. Their stories shared one common theme: hope.
Through this conference fellowship, I was given the chance to get to know several of the AADE leadership team, including current president, Hope Warshaw, and past presidents Tami Ross and Deborah Greenwood. I also had the opportunity to interact closely with the other FFL fellows: three early career endocrinologists and a psychologist whose work has centered on Quality of Life with type 1 diabetes. I am hopeful the fellowship program will continue to expose more diabetes educators to the inspiring type 1 community. My only question as I left the incredible conference was…Why don’t more people know about this?!