Back to FFL Orlando 2017 Report 2017 FFL Orlando Report: Sunday - Thursday

Friends for Life Conference Orlando 2017

Thursday was an incredibly busy day, jam-packed with brand new sessions, tried-n-true sessions, VIPs, and the always amazing Family and Friends Banquet.

Lilly Diabetes once again this year generously sponsored the Richard Rubin Opening Keynote and Breakfast. Olympian Kris Freeman joined us as Lilly’s Special Guest during breakfast. An inspiring video about Kris, his training and competition, and his family, cued up an interview and Q-A with Jeff Hitchcock, President and Founder of CWD. Kris’ message is so very positive – it was a great way to start the day and officially kick off the educational program for all.

In the Opening Keynote “Diabetes at 212 Degrees,” physician and researcher Des Schatz positively rocked the crowd into action and a standing ovation. It was a rallying cry: We are at the boiling point (212 degrees) of diabetes funding, research, and management; things need to change now! Many attendees requested a copy of Dr. Schatz’s power point for use with their own advocacy efforts.

Additional advocacy sessions followed on Thursday, with an "FDA and Industry panel on Innovation," a session about "Advocacy in Your Own Backyard," and a discussion about "Affordable Access to Insulin." All three of these sessions are brand-new to the FFL curriculum, and most pertinent in the current healthcare climate. Many thanks to T1 Today Board Members Stewart Perry and George Huntley for coordinating the advocacy sessions.

Quite a few new sessions were featured on both Thursday and Friday this year. Dr. Stephen Ponder joined us for a full afternoon of his Sugar Surfing program, which drew a standing-room-only audience. Additionally, Dr. Alessio Fasano (Center for Celiac Research, Massachusetts General Hospital), Dr. Alberto Pugliese (Diabetes Research Institute, University of Miami), and Dr. Frank Martin (JDRF Research Discovery Program) each presented cutting-edge research updates. Dr. Irl Hirsch, who received this year’s Hitchcock Distinguished Service Award, presented two new FFL topics, including “Glucose Variability: What We Know and What We Don’t Know” and “The Limitations of Biomarkers Like HbA1c.”

New this year was a track for Emerging Adults (EA), intended for those in the 18-20 age range who have graduated from the teen program and are just making their way into the adult world. These sessions were on both Thursday and Friday, and covered topics such as “I’m Not A Teen, But I’m Not an Adult: Where Do I Fit In?” “Accommodations in College, Graduate School, and Beyond,” “Insurance 101 for Young Adults,” and “Your Legal Rights as a Person with Type 1.” The EA program concluded with “Adulting 101,” which was an opportunity for EAs to share their thoughts about being new arrivals in the 18 and older world. Many thanks to those who have contributed to developing and coordinating this program: Sam Billetdeaux, Leigh Fickling, Grace Grande-Cassell, Brian Grant, Mark Heyman, Matt Point, Adam Town, and Jill Weissberg-Benchell.

The Grandparents Program featured several well-attended sessions on Thursday and Friday, including the “Common Fears Discussion” and “Reclaiming Sleepovers and How to Avoid Diabetes Emergencies.” CDE Heather Speer and her team did a wonderful job of teaching, encouraging, and hands-on-helping Grands and other caregivers as they learned basics and beyond. One grandparent shared with us that it was the first time she and her husband felt they were in a safe place to cry and then move beyond sadness into a ‘learning’ frame of mind. We love to see the growing number of Grands who join us each year!

Sessions for adults with type 1 and their partners were offered throughout the Thursday and Friday schedule. Many of these were tried-n-true sessions such as “Dealing with Burnout for Adults,” “Safe Zone for Significant Others,” and “How to Get Support and Knowledge Using Apps, the Internet, and Social Media.” Attendees request these topics year after year because the content is always fresh and pertinent. A big thank you to Insulet for continuing to sponsor the T1 adult sessions and helping us build this program for our fastest-growing group of attendees!

Thursday’s youth program included sessions for elementary (ages 6-8), tween (ages 9-12), and teen (ages 13-17) groups. As well, childcare was provided for our youngest participants. CWD’s Youth Program leaders have been doing this for a long time, and they pulled together the very best in terms of what activities would best lead to the learning objectives. Yes, the kids always have fun, and yes, there is always a detailed plan behind the activities! Many thanks to the leaders and to the age group program staff, who kept everything running smoothly on Thursday and Friday. Also, a big thank you to Tandem Diabetes Care for sponsoring the Elementary Program, and to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for sponsoring the Teen Program.

Sessions ended promptly at 4:30, and it was time to set up and decorate for the Family and Friends Banquet, once again so generously sponsored by Novo Nordisk. This year’s theme was FFL Country Jamboree, and the room was filled with cowboy hats, glow sticks, and ‘country’ decor! CWD Mom Teresa Littlefield and her team of 40 volunteers spent just short of an hour turning the Coronado Ballroom into the jamboree venue – they have it down to a science! Diabetes Dad Tom Karlya was once again Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

As the evening program began, Jeff Hitchcock presented the 2017 Hitchcock Distinguished Service Award to Irl Hirsch, MD, Professor of Medicine, for his life-long commitment to people with diabetes and their families, for his courage in publicly confronting challenges that are obstructing optimal care delivery, and for his generosity in sharing his decades of personal and professional wisdom and knowledge with Friends for Life families over many years. Dr. Hirsch embodies the best in medicine and humanity. He is knowing and kind, generous and approachable, confident yet gentle.

Prior to FFL week, CWD kids had the opportunity to submit a one-minute video for Docu-Diabetes III (aka the FFL Oscars) coordinated by CWD’s Ben Stroud, Tom Karlya, Kevin Covais, and Amanda Borges, who all work in the film industry. These short videos were viewed and voted on by a Wednesday FFL audience, and then the winning videos were shown during the Banquet. The video can be seen on the Docu-Diabetes III page. They were funny and spot-on, and yes, we definitely have some up-and-coming talent in our FFL kids! Congratulations and well done to all who submitted videos.

CWD’s VP of Education and Programs Laura Billetdeaux then took the stage, and she spoke about the importance of the orange bracelet and how those who love people with type 1 (aka the Orange Tribe) have had such a huge part in shaping Friends for Life. Audrey Greenfield then joined her on stage and reminisced back to 2001 when the family gathering of the first year evolved into a real conference, and Audrey asked: What are you going to do with the children? Who is going to watch them? At that time, Audrey was an executive at a brand-new pump company, and she suggested one of her nurses might be interested: Mary Babin. Mary jumped at the opportunity, and has been at the helm of Childcare, watching over our littlest attendees, for the past 16 years. Mary received the Friend for Life Award as the audience – many of whom were her first childcare kids – gave a standing ovation.

Laura then told the story of how and why the Unexpected Hero Award was created back in 2004 at the Friends for Life in Universal City, California. She presented the 2017 Unexpected Hero Award to Brenda Hitchcock for her tremendous support in grant-writing initiatives this past year. Laura also called Logan and Samantha Merwin on stage. Logan shared his fund-raising ideas from the past year, and he encouraged other kids to do similarly in support of Friends for Life 2018. Logan and his mom were then surprised with an Unexpected Hero Award for their efforts this year in fund-raising to ‘bring back the Mickey Bars!’

Next up: the slide show, always a highlight, always emotional. This year, the slide show featured first timers, FFLs, and joy.

We were extraordinarily fortunate this year to have RaeLynn join us once again! RaeLynn is an exciting country music performer and songwriter who has had type 1 for a decade, and whom we initially met on The Voice. She invited the kids onto the dance floor and performed a wonderful and very moving half-hour set. Most of the kids knew the lyrics and sang along. Thanks, Novo Nordisk, for bringing RaeLynn. She is much-loved by her FFLs!

And with that – the party was on! DJ Miles and Terra invited the sponsors onto the dance floor for a Boot Scootin’ Boogie line dance, and then worked their usual magic with the crowd, the music, and the dance floor. As an added bonus, Disney’s Country Bears joined us for a couple of hours – they were some of the best character visits ever! All in all, an amazing and spectacular evening.


Dr. Alessio Fasano presented and led the celiac screening team

Dr. Stephen Ponder's sessions on Sugar Surfing were packed

Carb counts and gluten free options make meals easy

Our Canadian faculty were serious about the banquet's country theme

RaeLynn, sporting her Green Bracelet, performed during the banquet

[ Report Intro | Sunday through Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday
Photos | Docu-Diabetes III | Other Write Ups | Presentations | Sponsors | Print Program | Event Announcement ]

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