Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Virtua Hospital in South Jersey offers Diabetic Teens a Support Group...And So Much More

A few months ago, I had the honor of speaking to a group of diabetic teens at Virtua Hospital in Voorhees New Jersey and boy, was I impressed!

It all started last April, when Robin Stout, an RN & CDE from Virtua Hospital called my cell. She’d heard about me from Cheryl Marco, a CDE over at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Robin wanted to know if I'd be interested in speaking to her teens about my life with the Big D, and crack a few jokes in the process. She’d read my blog and wanted to know if:

A) I’d be interested in speaking to her kids
B) Could I keep it clean?

I said yes to both and put the October date in my Calendar.

Cut to this past October, work was crazy, DRI was looming, and a standing date with Virtua was on the books in big red letters.

Robin is an amazing person. She’s not only managed to provide the teens in Burlington, Camden, and Glouster counties with a Diabetes Support Group, but she’s also managed to create a social network in which the kids can talk about everything that’s on their minds and learn about diabetes in the process.

The groups meets @ the Virtua Hospital campus in Voorhees every six weeks during the school year. The students are bused in from their schools and are provided breakfast, interesting speakers, nifty raffles, and a safe place to vent!

The breakfast was tasty breakfast burritos with the carb count clearly stated – I didn’t have any until after the fact because I knew that my blood sugar gets a bit crazy whenever I get on stage.

The group consisted of 20 teens and I was a little nervous. Robin introduced me to the group; I took a deep breath and did my spiel. I talked about owning diabetes and pointed out the positives that diabetes has given me. I mentioned the funny things like tubing and doorknobs and people thinking I was a Rocket Scientist because I could operate the buttons on my pump sans the Operators Manual.

But my main goal was to get the kids to dialogue about diabetes…and dialogue about diabetes they did! Before I knew it, the group was talking about EVERYTHING.

We talked about the way diabetes is handled today, verses the way it was handled previously. They found it so hard to believe that back in the good old days of urine testing, EVERYTHING was off limits. Today, as long as you take your blood sugars and count carbs, the world is our schmorgasboard!

I introduced “The Diabetes Police” concept to them - they had encountered them, but have never heard the the term. The students shared their own encounters with the D Police, and we agreed that they were a global force to be reckoned with. As a group, it was unanimous; the D Police had many miss conceptions regarding the disease - Some made us laugh, and others made us very angry. But by talking about the D-polices actions as a group, it was much easier to see the funny!

When I asked the kids to give me some diabetes positives, one of the kids said something that blew me away. He raised his hand and said, "When I graduate college and find the job that I want, I’m going to tell the person who interviews me that I’m not just smart on paper. I’m also extremely responsible because I’ve been dealing with my diabetes since I was seven, and they wouldn’t have to worry about me being irresponsible.”

I WAS FLOORED at his response – and I told him so. Let's be honest, when most of us were coming up, we were told NEVER to tell a prospective employer about our diabetes – no matter what.

Today, kids are using their diabetes to get jobs – “HALLALLUAH – TIMES ARE A CHANGING!”

Things are so different from when I was teen – ON SO MANY LEVELS,
but especially regarding diabetes.

In grade school – there was one other diabetic kid in my town.
I remember hanging out with him, his brother and this girl Marie – I was probably in the fourth grade. All of us had our faces pressed up against the window of this mecca of sugar in our town called “The Chocolate Shoppe.” All of us watched as the Choclatiers made the caramels. “Diabetic Dude” and I walked away with our heads down low– we just couldn’t stand looking anymore.

In High School, there were three of us with the “beets” among the 1100 who attended my alma mater.
We were in different grades and I never had classes with the other two.
We each knew the others existed, and we nodded to one another in the halls, but we really never spoke about the Big D in any great detail. Why bring it up? High School sucked enough without pointing out the obvious. We were different, and not like a John Hughes film type of different. Yes, we’d continue to march to our own drum, but we wouldn’t necessarily like it. And acceptance would take years.

The one support group I attended was with my parents was held at the local IHOP.
Once I saw the pancake buffet and peaches drenched in syrupy sweetness – I grabbed a fork and started to eat. However, my father grabbed my hand and yanked me out of there. He felt waxing poetic about diabetes while over-dosing on pancakes was probably not the way to get a grip on things.

But enough about my walk down Memory Lane. The kids at Virtua I met that day in late October were smart, funny, articulate, and they knew all about the latest and greatest in diabetes accoutrement.

Collectively, they had over 100 years of diabetes experience among them and nearly two-thirds of them were on, or were about to go on the pump. They shared freely and it was obvious that they had a great individual and group relationship with Robin.

We continued talking until the school busses started to arrive, and then we talked some more.

Robin told me after that she’d seen the kids so chatty – which of course made me feel like I’d done OK.

I left feeling happy. Happy that the students liked me and laughed in all the right places, happy that such a group existed for teens, and happy attitudes regarding diabetes among diabetic teens has changed for the better.

If you know a New Jersey diabetic teen in the Camden, Glouster, or Burlington County areas, tell them about the “Teens with Diabetes Support Group Meetings” at Virtua, and be sure to give them the following info.

Teens with Diabetes Support Group
Virtua Hospital
Barry D. Brown Health Education Center
106 Carnie Boulevard
Voorhees, NJ 08403

Facilitator: Robin Stout, RN, CDE

Or call: 1888-847-8823

The next meeting is scheduled 1/28/08
Additional meetings will be held on


Scott S said...

While it is encouraging that kids see diabetes as a positive, we can only hope that the person doing the interviews can be convinced to see diabetes the same way. Unfortunately, many small companies are inclined to see diabetes not as character-building, but as a huge incremental cost to the company's healthcare bill. Until we reform the nation's healthcare system, it may not be the ticket to a new job, but as reason NOT to hire someone!

Scott K. Johnson said...

That is so cool Kelly, you have probably touched a bunch of those kids in ways that will help them for their whole lives (and you got some good stuff from it too!).

meanderings said...

I can just "feel" the energy of the young people while reading. I appreciate their optimism and enthusiasm.

k2 said...

Scott -
Healthcare in this country needs to change, absolutely! But the fact that those teens believe nothing is off limits to them because of diabetes is amazing to me

Scottie J -
It was an amazing experience on every level. I don't know what they got from me, but the gifts they gave me were and are truly amazing!

Colleen -
They are going to change the world regarding Diabetes!

Anonymous said...

That sounds like an amazing experience, for both you and the group!! The only time I went to a diabetes support group I was 12 and it was mostly older people.. My high school experience was also very much like yours. I'd be interested in looking into finding a group for teens or college students for when I'm home during the summer.. It sounds like a really great support system to have!

k2 said...

Seonaid - A.K.A Making The Choice

It was a wonderful experience!
Support systems are so important for people with Diabetes. Please let me know if you find a group in the Phila area for College students.
Also - Gary Scheiner has a Pump Club meeting every 3 months just outside of Philly. Here's the web address: