Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Joe, My Very First Friend With Diabetes & How Life Comes Full Circle~

Writing about Joe, my very first friend with diabetes was difficult because there were so many ways I could tell the story. 
For me the story represents a tale of friendship and diabetes and life coming full circle -  With a dash of wonder thrown in. So that's how I'm going to tell it. 
Once upon a time and in the summer of "77," there was a little girl named Kelly who started to feel "not quite right," and right before she entered third grade. 
That was the summer where Kelly grew really tall and lanky and down right thin. 
And that was also the summer where Kelly was always so incredibly thirsty that no amount of water, soda or juice could quench it. And of course always being thirsty meant that Kelly was always running to the bathroom.
Finally on Halloween, Kelly’s parents drove her Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, PA, (CHOP) where she was was diagnosed with diabetes and admitted - And where she stayed for three weeks. 
It was there Kelly met her Peds Endocrinologist, Dr. Lester Baker
Dr. Baker was a kind man with a deep voice and a big laugh, and who always told Kelly that she made him smile.  And he never failed to give Kelly a big hug whenever she saw him - which was a lot. 
On day number two, or maybe number three of her hospital stay, Dr. Baker introduced Kelly to Joe, who turned out to be Kelly’s very first friend with diabetes. 
Joe looked like a grown up, except he didn’t act like one. 
True, he worked at CHOP and in tandem with Dr. Baker, but Joe was still in school.
Kelly didn't know what he was studying or what school he was attending, she just knew Joe was really funny and smart - And that college or not, Joe was just a big kid. 
He was tall with black hair that fell just above his shoulders, with a thick New York accent and a goofball sense of humor
Joe always made Kelly laugh and Joe encouraged Kelly to talk about the good, the bad and diabetesalicous of it all. Joe talked with Kelly about life with diabetes and didn’t dumb it down - And the fact that Joe talked to Kelly and with Kelly, and never at her, made all the difference.

Like I said, Joe was Kelly’s first friend with diabetes. Turns out Joe had been diagnosed with diabetes as a child, so Joe “got it.” 

Kelly and Joe would have most of their heart to hearts by the fountain in the atrium across froth the McDonalds at CHOP. 
Yes, it was the 1970s, things were much more loosey goosey and there was indeed a McDonald's at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Times have changed, and today CHOP has an actual Food Court. 
Anyway, that's where Kelly and Joe would hang out, eat their Cheeseburgers (after clearing it with both Kelly’s nurse and dietitian of course,) loaded with extra pickles and ketchup and drink their Diet Cokes and talk about everything under the sun.
 Joe would tell Kelly: Kel, you know what I’m going to do when they find a cure for diabetes? I’m gonna rent out the whole Breyers Ice Cream factory and throw a party for all my friends with diabetes and we’re gonna to go crazy! 

Kelly would laugh and tell him she couldn't wait until that day, and then she'd try and crack jokes about diabetes - not necessarily funny, but not bad for an almost 9 year old. 
And after trying to make him laugh, Kelly would talk to Joe about her big sister Debbie who also had t1 diabetes and how she was so sick
Kelly told Joe how Debbie kept getting worse instead of better and how Debbie being sick, made Kelly scared and mad all at the same time

Sometimes Kelly’s parents would sit in on those sessions - AND looking back - they probably met with Kelly’s friend Joe by themselves. 
Lets face it, being a parent to a child, let alone 3 children with diabetes wasn't easy then, and it's not easy now~ 

Finally, Kelly was allowed to go home and she did OK her first few years with diabetes. But at the end of 6th grade she was readmitted to CHOP because Kelly was having some issues and her A1c had hit the double digits. 
I have it on very good authority that Kelly was furious with her parents for readmitting her to CHOP - and she refused to say goodbye to them at the 3rd floor elevators when they were leaving after settling her in - And between you and me, she still feels kinda bad about that. 
During that week in the hospital, Kelly cried her eyes out to her friend Joe - and on a daily basis.

Joe let her cry and Joe also told her she needed to "get it together" if she wanted to live a good life and talked with her about doing just that. 
And Kelly knew in her heart that Joe was right. 
The week ended, Kelly went home and things with her diabetes were better for a time. 
Her friend Joe left CHOP for places unknown & Kelly never got to say goodbye. 
But she never forgot Joe - And every time she thought of him, Kelly smiled. 

Over the years and whenever she met a child with diabetes - Kelly talked with them and to them - Not at them - Just like her friend Joe had done with her. 

For years and well into adulthood, she’d talk of her very first friend with diabetes named Joe - And how he’d made such a positive impact on her life, and her life with diabetes. 
Sidebar: Every time Kelly saw a movie with Ron Silver in the cast, she thought of her old friend Joe, because the actor reminded her of her long ago first friend with diabetes. 

Cut to the end of 2008/ beginning of 2009. Kelly was getting ready to move, but was procrastinating in the name of diabetes. She was checking out the Animas website and had clicked on the " Animas Employees with Diabetes," video link. 
She decided to cut the procrastinating and kill two birds with one stone. 
So she listened to the Animas employees with diabetes interviews while she was cleaning out her walk-in-closet. 
And as Kelly was packing up her clothes in wardrobe boxes, she heard a familiar voice with a thick New York accent. 
And Kelly was all like: NO. WAY. No way, no way, no way!! 
Kelly hadn’t heard that voice since she was 12 - And that voice literally stopped Kelly in her tracks. 
IS THAT MY FRIEND JOE? She asked asked herself out loud. 
Kelly poked her head out of her walk-in-closet and looked at the computer screen - And there on the screen was her old friend Joe, wearing a fez hat and talking about life with diabetes. His hair was much shorter - but it was Joe. 

After 30+ years, Kelly found out that Joe was not only alive and well, but that he was still doing what he did best - Helping children and families with diabetes and had gone on to do wonderful things in the world of diabetes. 

And finally after 32+ years of talking about her friend Joe, she actually learned his last name - It was Solowiejczyk
And the fact that Joe Solowiejczyk was still alive and doing what he did with such gusto made her smile and it made her very happy. 
Kelly, who had mastered the art googling, emailed her old friend Joe but didn’t hear back. 
Cut to less than a year later in Orlando, Florida. Kelly was attending the Roche New Media Summit at The World Marriott,which happened to piggy backThe Children With Diabetes Friends For Life Conference, which was being held at the very same hotel that year. 
While Kelly was talking at the bar with a group of Diabetes Bloggers - she spied her old friend, Joe. 
So she took a deep breath and walked up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and said: 

Kelly:  Are you Joe, Joe Solowi..

Joe: Yep, I'm Solowiejczyk!

Kelly: Oh, OK. Hi. I don’t know if you remember me or not, but my name is Kelly Kun.. 

Joe: You're Kelly Kunik!  You were my 3rd patient ever - I can still see your patient card in my mind  - OF COURSE I REMEMBER YOU. YOU MADE IT -YOU”RE STILL ALIVE. 

And it was like all the years that had passed had magically melted away and Kelly and Joe hugged one another tight (and their eyes may or may not have gotten misty,) and it was as if no time had passed - Except of course it had. 
Now they had both grown up and they were both in the diabetes world - which and not so ironically, isn’t as large as you might think - It's actually quite small. 
Joe Solo & Kelly
Old friends and friends for life - ADA 2012
Philadelphia, Convention Center~
Now they see each other every year at Children With Diabetes, Friends For Life and a few other D conferences - And they keep in touch in real life. 
And Kelly,(who FTR, normally never writes in the third person) blogs about living with diabetes. 
And she (OK, me,) recently had the opportunity to read her old her very first friend with diabetesJoe Solowiejczyk's amazing new ibook: A type 1 Diabetes Guide to The Universe & interviewed Joe about his book and his website,via the Skype. 

You’ll get to read all about it tomorrow - You’ll also have the chance to win a copy of the book for yourself!  

So what’s the moral(s) of this story? 

It's pretty simple. The world is smaller than we imagined and everything in our world does indeed comes full circle.  
One person makes a positive impact on many - And in the world of diabetes, friends become friends for life~   But I have a feeling you've already experienced that last part ;) 


Joanne said...

I love this story... It makes me ridiculously happy for some reason. I didn't get the chance to met him last year at FFL, but Fred went to his session and still talks about how awesome it was.

If we get to come this year, I'll have to see how wonderful Joe is for myself

Robert A. Geise said...

I love Joe and I've never met him! :-)

Unknown said...

Just wonderful, Kelly. Two of my favorite people - one IRL and one in my computer :0)
And I remember the McDonald's at CHOP too!!!

Sherrie in Canada said...

Oh my goodness, Kelly...this made me cry! We have been blessed to have also met Joe 5 days after my 9 year old was diagnosed. That was just over a year ago. We look at him like family. He was also Carter's first friend with diabetes. Joe touches the heart and leaves a life-long impression with everyone he meets.

StephenS said...

Judging by the comments already up here, it looks like a very small world indeed. I can see how happy this makes you, and it looks like it makes you happy every time you think about it. And that is fantastic! Thanks for sharing this.

Scott E said...

Wow, this story really made me weepy-eyed. How can anyone not love Joe, and love Kelly, after a story like that? So glad you got to reconnect, but even more glad of the great influence Joe had on you early on.

BBird said...

I also love Joe despite having never met him. I hope every kid diagnosed with diabetes can have a Joe in their lives.

Scott K. Johnson said...

I love this post, K2. :-)

Joe is one of my favorite people around. We're so lucky to have him in our lives.

shannon said...

i got misty the same time you did in the story! thank you so much for sharing this real-life fairytale. you sure were lucky to have him as your first D friend, and the world is lucky that he is so open and shares with so many the same way he did with you all those years ago.