Nearly twenty years ago, Jeffrey Hitchcock came home after being laid off from his job, clicked on his computer and set up a website he called Children with Diabetes® (CWD).
Today, the CWD website has 36,000 pages of content. The forum has more than 13,000 members who have put up more than 830,000 posts. CWD’s conferences have brought more than 20,000 people face to face in this d-world of ours. For so many, CWD is synonymous with support, community and diabetes.
Hitchcock recently announced changes to the organization, namely restructuring CWD as an Ohio-based nonprofit. No one – least of all Hitchcock – was anything less than intrigued. Because, it seems, when Hitchcock faces change, the diabetes community benefits.
“Our goal is to continue to deliver the conferences and online education that we’ve been delivering,” Hitchcock says of the change. “I see this as an enormous opportunity to begin again.”
CWD was born from his experience in his old job – where, in the early days of the Internet, he and other computer software developers would go on “forums” to exchange ideas. Once he had access to “the worldwide web,” it was clear to him where the future lay. “It was perfectly obvious to me that the web was the perfect medium [for diabetes information and support],” says Hitchcock, whose daughter was living with type 1 diabetes at that point.
His daughter, Marissa, was seven at the time, and he made the decision to cash in his 401k, learn all he could about website development, and build a site that would help him and his wife Brenda, as well as others. By 2002, CWD was thriving, and Hitchcock found a way for it to pay his salary.
Meanwhile, in 1999, CWD partner Laura Billetdeaux sent out an email to CWD users suggesting they “share a vacation,” in Disney. Get this: 550 people showed up.
“The Internet was still pretty new,” Hitchcock says. “So this was basically people saying ‘lets go take a vacation with my imaginary friends.’ It was quite innovative.” From that, “Friends for Life®,” thought to be the largest gathering of people touched by type 1 diabetes, was born, as were regional conferences around the nation and in Canada and London.
Today, Hitchcock says that while maintaining the integrity and growth of the CWD website is a priority, the real core of the mission is – and will continue to be – the conferences.
“As much as we can learn online; as much as we can connect and support one another online, there is no substitution for meeting face to face,” he says. This year, CWD will focus on the Friends for Life event, the United Kingdom Friends for Life program and an upcoming October 2014 conference in California. As they build in their new direction, Hitchcock, now a grandfather thanks to Marissa, wants to work toward a time when he is no longer needed at the helm.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he says. However CWD is structured, he adds, “it needs to be set up so that it is in service until we no longer need it. It needs to continue on and be there for all who need it, even when I cannot be anymore.”
Judging by what Hitchcock accomplished after that layoff years ago, a good bet is that will happen. And CWD, now a staple for not just families with “children with diabetes,” but also for the many adults living with diabetes, will go on.
Sometimes, looking at its reach and growth, even Hitchcock is surprised.
“I don’t think I had any idea back then what this would become,” he said. “In the 1990’s the web was tiny. It was mostly used by AOL® subscribers. It was like the pioneers heading to the west: they had to get off the trail to find us. But they did. They sure did.”
And despite the web being endless today and technology in diabetes care improving, Hitchcock sees the need as just as strong, if not stronger.
“After all,” he said. “Our chronic healthcare model is very good at the mechanics of life support, but they don’t teach us how to live. We can only get that from each other. And we must. How to live with this [condition] is the key to living well.”
Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author, and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes in the media, through books, and on her popular blog, despitediabetes.com. McCarthy has appeared on CNN Live, Good Morning America, and Fox News. She was recently recognized as the JDRF International Volunteer of the Year. Her six books include the top-selling The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children With Juvenile Diabetes and her latest Raising Teens With Diabetes: A Survival Guide For Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience