Back to the 2013 conference report 2013 Friends for Life Report - Thursday

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The Richard Rubin Keynote Address and Breakfast, sponsored by Lilly Diabetes. Emotional. Wonderful. Jeff Hitchcock opened the session by reflecting on the past few years in his family's life – years in which Tim graduated high school and began college, Kathryn graduated college and began a career in fashion in NYC, and Marissa finished college, became an RN, married Adam, and is now expecting her first child. Jeff and Brenda will be grandparents!

Jeff then introduced Meri Schuhmacher, who gave a moving tribute in memory of Richard Rubin. Dr. Rubin had written a poem and sent it to Meri's husband, Ryan, last year, entitled, "I'm Not Afraid." Meri shared that with the audience, and it was a very special way to have Dr. Rubin with us. He was – and is – greatly missed.

Tom Karlya aka Diabetes Dad continued with the keynote, with his ongoing message that families with type 1 diabetes – people with type 1 diabetes – can do and be anything they set their mind to. Earlier in the summer, families had sent Tom stories and photos of the amazing things their children were doing. Tom shared some of those stories, as well as dozens of photos set to the song, "Defying Gravity" from the Broadway musical, Wicked.

Moira McCarthy then took the stage. Although she confessed after the session to being quite nervous because of the huge audience and giant ballroom, Moira ... well, Moira is a presence. She was funny and poignant. She talked about the Culture of Yes – finding a way to be ok with everything involved with allowing your child to grow up and become an independent adult. Her daughter, Lauren, is now a young adult. Moira shared some of her own stories and perspective as she and her husband struggled with the Culture of Yes.

Following the Richard Rubin Keynote, Thursday sessions continued with a wide variety of topics on both a beginners and more advanced level. One room was devoted specifically to science. Sessions included the DRI BioHub: Mimicking the Native Pancreas (Cherie Stabler), the Artificial Pancreas Project (Ed Damiano), Clinical Roadmap to a Cure (Julia Greenstein and Mark Atkinson), and Reading the Research: The T1D Exchange (Roy Beck and Dana Ball).

Other sessions focused on the psychosocial aspects of type 1 diabetes. These sessions included Preparing High Schoolers for College and Young Adulthood (Diana Naranjo and Henry Rodriguez), Changes, Challenges, and Cheers (Jill Weissberg-Benchell), Facing Really Hard Challenges (Sandy Struss), and Getting a Fresh Start with Diabetes Management (Barbara Anderson).

There were plenty of "how-to" sessions, including Making Sense of Sensor Data (Gary Scheiner), Continuous Glucose Sensing Update (Henry Anhalt), Carb Counting Basics and Tools (Dana Dignard), and Managing Sick Days and Hospital Stays (Lori Laffel).

For the college age group, Korey Hood and Marissa Town facilitated a discussion called Time Management: Juggling Priorities and Fitting Diabetes Into Life. Jeremy Pettus presented a Technology Update, and Korey Hood finished the day's schedule with a Young Men's Discussion Group.

Adults with type 1 had two dedicated rooms and a great variety of sessions on Thursday, including Women and Diabetes (Brandy Barnes), Everything But Insulin (Henry Anhalt and Kelly Close), Support Through Social Media (Kerri Sparling, Scott Johnson, Jessica Apple), Stress Management (Bob Bulgarelli and Natalie Bellini), The Impact of Health Care Reform on People with Diabetes (Greg Aronin), and Positive Caregiving (Jill Weissberg-Benchell). And the Grandparents/Caregivers sessions featured Grandparents Guidelines and the Common Fears Discussion.

The kids had an absolutely fabulous time on Thursday. This year, once again there were so many elementary aged children that they were divided into two age groups, 6/7 year olds, and 8/9 year olds. Lauren Lanning and Michelle Rago were at the helm of the Elementary program, supported by 27 parent and young adult staff who spent all day Thursday and Friday with the children. These staff included Sierra Abel, Sunshine Abel, Noor Al Ramahi, Lorraine Anderson, Seth Bryant, Connor Dunlap, Lynet Fox, Brian Grant, Jen Hanson, Timothy Hitchcock, Kara Hunsche, Chad Kyllo, Monica Lanning, Sarah Loebner, Carolyn Meredith, Chelsea Meredith, Jeremy Meredith, Tayler Michaelson, Jesse Nagel, Chris Opdenaker, Jessica Plotts, Kara Podjasek, Caroline Smits, Wendy Smits, Georgia Spiropoulos, Jenny Vandevelde, and Kevin Woodward.

The Tween (ages 10-12) day was also jam-packed with fun activities led by Tween Leaders Adam Town, Deb Ruppert, Kelsey Martin, and Justin Abel. The kids were in age groups for the morning ice-breakers, with10s, 11s, 12s each having their own group leaders. After break, they divided into two groups for ‘Type 1 Talk' (Joe Solowiejczyk and Maryam Elarbi) and ‘Sibs Talk' (Jessica Markowitz and Carolyn Billetdeaux). In the afternoon, the tweens visited Sports Central and also had their own opportunity to meet in small groups with some of the conference VIPs, including Kendall Simmons, Will Cross, Jay Hewitt, and Crystal Bowersox. Many thanks to Sarah Melendez, Kaitlyn Karlya, and Kenny Rodenheiser who helped check blood sugars, reassured kids and parents, headed off lows, and made the Tween Experience better in general! The tween staff also included Maryam Elarbi, Zak Elarbi, Grace Grande-Cassell, Sarah Ketcheson, Austin Martin, Melissa Pawlowski, and Don Plotts. Great work and many thanks!

Teens had a very busy day on Thursday as well, led by Teen Program Coordinators Natalie Bellini, Jim Vail, and Marissa Town, and a group of seasoned teen staff, including Neil Benchell, Sam Billetdeaux, Bob Bulgarelli, Martyn Carr, Galen Horton, Jose Lopez, Paul Madden, Adriana and Ken Rodenheiser, Jill Weissberg-Benchell, and Chuck Wiedmeyer. Because there were so many teenagers participating this year, they were separated into Younger Teens (ages 13-14) and Older Teens (ages 15-17). This was particularly helpful in the discussion groups and breakout sessions. Teens had sessions about communicating effectively with parents (Raising Your Parents, Jill Weissberg-Benchell), Leadership skills (Chuck Wiedmeyer), and Technology (Jim Vail). They additionally spent time in Girl Talk, Boy Talk, and Sibs Talk discussions. And they rocked Sports Central in their after-lunch session (special shout-out to Jaime Molyneux and the Zumba team).

The younger crowd – under 6 – had a wonderful time in childcare this year! A big thank you to Animas Corporation for again sponsoring childcare (this is the 12th year!). There were 2 childcare rooms this year: one for ages 3-5 and an 'under 3' room for the youngest conference participants. This went extremely well, and the kids were quite happy with their age-appropriate activities (and nap time!). Jackson the Dog was a big hit on multiple occasions (thank you, Dr. Mike). Snacks were provided to the children right by childcare which saved a lot of time with check-in/check-outs. Many thanks to Mary Bulgarelli and her clinical staff who provided CDE support in all of the rooms. Also many thanks to the room leaders and staff: Jocelyn Budd, Marisa Fox, Audrey Greenfield, Jane Hunsche, Alyssa Kyllo, Pam Loebner, Kara Martin, Midge McBryant, Lisa Pitt, Helen Rodio, and Brandy Schmidt. Kudos to all of the childcare staff for a job well done!

A special thank you to the Sibs team, who worked across age groups to facilitate discussion and fun activities for the sibs in the elementary, tween, and teen programs. The Sibs team included Sierra Abel, Carolyn Billetdeaux, Zak Elarbi, Jessica Markowitz, Austin Martin, and Jill Weissberg-Benchell.

On Thursday evening, the annual Family and Friends Banquet was held. This year's theme: The Friends for Life Ball. Children dressed up as their favorite Disney prince or princess; actually some staff did, too! Tuxedos, long gowns, and general ‘fanciness' ruled the evening. There were tiaras everywhere! Tom Karlya – aka King FFL – presided over the evening celebration. Sponsor Novo Nordisk once again outdid themselves with the themed decorations which included a castle entrance, glass slippers on every table, blinky tiaras, crowns, and plenty of glow necklaces. Disney princes and princesses joined us later in the evening for photos and autographs – a really special touch to the evening. Kudos to Stacey Nagel and her team of 35 volunteers who transformed the Coronado Ballroom in record time (about 30 minutes – this crew has the process down to a science).

The 2013 Jeff Hitchcock Distinguished Service Award was presented to Paul Madden for his lifetime of work making a difference in the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes. Two 2013 CWD Friend for Life awards were presented to Scott Johnson and Kerri Sparling, recognizing their efforts in helping Friends for Life to develop meaningful programming for our growing audience of adults with type 1 diabetes.

Three Unexpected Hero Awards were presented this year. Adam Town was honored for his willingness as a spouse, partner, and leader to jump into CWD and FFL with both feet, and be a role model and leader for so many kids and young adults. Terri Somsky and Ross Feezel, both Disney cast members, were honored for their many years of supporting Friends for Life events – not just during conference week, but all year long ... even on years when the conference is not held at Disney. Both are true friends who do everything they possibly can to support CWD and FFL.

As she does each year, Laura Billetdeaux shared a personal and emotional perspective of CWD and FFL via slide show and music. This year's slide show celebrated CWD families, staff and volunteers, Richard Rubin, and the great energy and enthusiasm of all FFL participants! Many thanks to photographers Chris Kakol, Michelle Rago, Jeff Hitchcock, Rich Meredith, and Bruce Baccaro who provided thousands of fabulous photos from the prior 12 months of conferences!

The final event of the evening – before the dancing officially started – was to have a bit of fun with our sponsors. DJ Miles invited the sponsors to come onto the dance floor, and he led them in a rousing rendition of the Friends for Life Ball - Gangnam Style! Great energy, great fun ... and some really good sports on the dance floor!

Many, many thanks to the evening's sponsor, Novo Nordisk. You outdo yourselves every year – this year's Ball was amazing.

A special word of thanks goes to all of our conference sponsors. We could not do this without you. You all have helped Friends for Life get off the ground and become the very special gathering that it is today, fourteen years after our very first event. This year's sponsors include Novo Nordisk, OneTouch, Lilly Diabetes, Sanofi Diabetes, Abbott Diabetes Care, Animas, Insulet Corporation, Tandem Diabetes Care®, Dexcom, Inc., Medtronic Diabetes, the Diabetes Research Institute and Foundation, Perrigo Diabetes Care, and JDRF. Quite simply: thank you.


Ed Damiano shared progress on the Bionic Pancreas
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CWD kids are under the watchful care of our great faculty and staff
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Tom Karla, aka King FFL, and his royal court
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Natalie and Brenda dressed up for the ball
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Families enjoyed dancing after Thursday's banquet
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Dr. Alessio Fasano and his team enjoyed the banquet, dancing, and photos with the princes and princesses on Thursday evening
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Young adults show the power of the FFL bracelets - green and orange
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Jackson, the dog with diabetes, made friends everywhere
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