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One of the Best Meetings of the Year Makes Us All Feel Young Again

From the moment her son was diagnosed with diabetes, Laura Billetdeaux was sharing her thoughts and taking advice on the website Children with Diabetes, a now-large online forum for families with diabetes in their midst. From a small town in Michigan, she wasn’t aware of any other families nearby dealing with the same challenges. She announced on the forum that her family would be going to Disneyworld over the summer and would anyone like to join them; 550 people came.

This was in 2000. Now, the meeting has grown immensely, and we can tell you firsthand that it’s fabulous. The Friends for Life conference, at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort from July 11 to July 15, is expected to bring in 2,500 people this year of all ages. We strongly urge our readers to consider going – we suspect it will be sold out by early June and so if you can possibly go, get your tickets now! (www.childrenwithdiabetes.com). This is an incredible place to learn about diabetes.

Although the conference has grown every year, this is the first year it will actually sell out, mainly because word has been spreading about what a fantastic experience it is. From this point on, Billetdeaux thinks, the annual meeting will sell out by early summer.

At diaTribe, we sometimes call this meeting a “mini-ADA” – ADA being the American Diabetes Association annual meeting, the largest such meeting of the year globally. We do so because this Children with Diabetes meeting is absolutely the place to be – speakers are first-rate, information is cutting edge, and the exhibit hall is massive. But there is one catch – “ADA is for professionals, and we’re not,” says Billetdeaux, “If you think about why the conference is so successful it’s because neither Jeff Hitchcock [the founder of Children with Diabetes] nor I are pros – he’s a dad and I’m a mom – that’s how it’s always been, we have always been concerned about children and families first and foremost.” Yes, this meeting is about kids, family, fun, managing diabetes better, and confronting diabetes as a community. But “people should understand that this is not just for kids,” says Billetdeaux, who says that many of the kids who started with CWD are now 25 years old, adults – and we can attest that many adults attend who don’t have children with diabetes but perhaps (or not!) were one themselves.

Speakers we would highlight include:

  • Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, the US surgeon general, whose keynote address Billetdeaux may be most excited about. She plans to put some teens, college students, and parents on a panel with him, and is interested in how he responds to their hopes for and concerns about diabetes;
  • Joe Solowiejcyzk, a family counselor focused on diabetes education;
  • Paul Madden, of Animas and formerly the Joslin Diabetes Center;
  • Drs. Bruce Buckingham and Francine Kaufman, both very well-known pediatric endocrinologists;
  • Dr. Irl Hirsch of University of Washington;
  • Dr. Richard Rubin, a psychologist and diabetes educator, and outgoing President of Health and Education at the ADA;
  • Dr. David Harlan, the Chief of Islet and Autoimmunity research at the NIH;
  • Dr. Aaron Kowalski, who leads the Artificial Pancreas Projects at the JDRF; and
  • Dr. Henry Anhalt of the Saint Barnabas Medical Center in NJ.

Two talks in particular we’re excited about are Dr. Henry Anhalt’s “Why We Pump” and Dr. Irl Hirsch’s “Understanding the Ups and Downs of Blood Sugars.” And there are many, many more that look stellar. These are truly “the best of the best in the diabetes world,” says Billetdeaux – we absolutely concur.

Some of the other features include an inspiring banquet (sign up for registration the same day – the banquet will sell out soon), a day in Disneyworld with a doctor and educators on staff, free childcare for children under six, and youth divided into groups from elementary age to college age to participate in activities like an information scavenger hunt in the exhibit hall. “It’s such a positive experience for everyone, whether for a child seeing all this love and support or a doctor or researcher feeling that this is why they do what they do,” Billetdeaux says. For those who can’t make it to this meeting, there are regional conferences as well: for more information on both, please see www.childrenwithdiabetes.com.