Tag Archives: JDRF

Six Words… My Family’s Mission to Conquer Diabetes

20 Nov

                I’m very grateful and humbled to have just been honored with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Award for Public Awareness at the JDRF MinnDakotas Gala in Minneapolis.  It is the dream and prayers of my wife Susan and our daughters to find a cure for Type-1 diabetes.  Through the generosity of Minnesotans we raised more than $500,000 to fund the research to achieve that goal.  With the help of Scott Leech at BrandSpeak, this is the story of our journey with diabetes in addition to the transcript of my acceptance speech challenging all of us to help families everywhere write their own ending to this disease.

Six Words

            Susan and I are among the luckiest parents in the world.   When you have two daughters who light up your life and fearlessly step before you to testify to their own struggles with type-1 diabetes, it makes us proud and very humble.

            It’s only appropriate that you have a chance to meet them tonight, because they are the reason why Susan I are here.  They are the arc of our storyline, the inspiration for the narrative of our lives.   

Maddy & Emme Blotz presenting their father with the JDRF Award for Public Awareness at the Depot in Minneapolis, October 6, 2012.

            But the story of why we are here tonight did not begin with a diagnosis.  It’s actually a bed-time story.  It’s a bed-time story that began with a hard day about a year after that first diagnosis in 2001.   It was a typical day of chasing Maddy around the house with a needle to give her another insulin injection.  As I put her to bed and bent over to kiss her goodnight, she looked up with tear-filled eyes and said, “Daddy, I don’t want diabetes anymore.”

            Six words.

            To a parent, they are the most powerful six words you will hear.  They were more than just a child’s plea.  They were a calling.  A chorus.  A commandment.    No longer as parents would we be allowed to simply sit back and just manage diabetes.  We had to do something about it.

            In every respect I’m no different than you.  We want a cure.  My wife wants a cure.  I’m getting the recognition tonight, but Susan is the rock star.  She’s the one who’s spent countless nights cuddling a child, measuring keytones and waiting for blood sugars to drop.  She’s the one taking the calls from the school nurse.  She’s the one crying when the A1-C results come back.  She is the one who loves her daughters so much that she’d do anything for a cure.   Together, we have tried to use the public platform for which I have access, to educate and advocate for a cure.  

            All of us want to do something about it otherwise you wouldn’t be here tonight.  In the audience we have mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.  But also among us tonight we have doctors and researchers.  God gave them the ability heal, gave them the ability to ask tough questions, hypothesize the answers and prove them.   The rest of us are here because we have the ability to help them. 

            So, this is our story.  It is a story we share together.  In this narrative we all have a beginning whether that beginning was a father who has diabetes, a brother, a son, a daughter, a friend, or perhaps yourself.   Events like tonight are the middle of the story.  We all have them.  Our own narratives lead us down different walks of life and different paths with diabetes.  But we’re all trying to write the same ending.

            Won’t you help us?

            Six words.

            This is a bed-time story we need to put to bed.  Please join us.  Help us rewrite the title of this story from “I don’t want diabetes anymore,” to “I don’t have diabetes anymore.”

            Thank you for being with us tonight and blessings to you all.

*           *          *

Picture This — A Cure Community for Diabetes

5 Mar

Hopes and dreams don’t just hang in our minds, sometimes they hang in picture frames.

Blotz Family - OutFOX Diabetes 2012 Walk Team

At the recent Minnesota JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes, the hopes and dreams spilled from the pictures taken and pictures displayed on shirts and posters all across the Mall of America.  Almost all of them were of children.   Each one shouts a story, each one begs for someone to listen.  But the one picture that doesn’t exist is the image reserved for the empty frame that sits in each of our homes.  That’s the frame waiting for a picture of a cure.

Kim Bailey, an adult living with diabetes since her childhood once told me she envisions the frame as a picture of nothing.  “Let’s get rid of it.  It exists no longer.  Let’s get it done and put ourselves out of a job.”


Until then, I still fill my frames with hopes and dreams for my daughters Maddy and Emme.  Maddy was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at the age of three, Emme at the age of eleven.  It’s not an easy disease for children, or their parents.  Manageable, yes.  Easy, no.  Besides the constant blood sugar tests, carb counting and needles sticks, there is the worry and many times the feeling of isolation and exasperation.

Alyssa Kapaun was diagnosed in 2011 with Type-1

At this year’s Walk there were two girls who know both the isolation and exasperation.  Alyssa Kapaun is a fifth grader who every day eats lunch by herself because she returns late to the cafeteria after getting her insulin shot in the nurse’s office.  To a parent, it’s a crushing sight; Alyssa on one end of the cafeteria all alone, her class on the other end.  I recently had the chance to meet Alyssa at her school—she didn’t eat lunch alone that day. 

Hailey Stark of "Hailey's Army" Walk Team

                            And then there’s Hailey Stark, a high school freshman I first met at last year’s Walk hobbling along on crutches.  She was having a hard time of it.  The struggles of being a teenager, in addition to one with diabetes AND a broken leg were written on her face as plain as a low blood sugar reading.  She didn’t give up then, and she hasn’t given up now.  What a thrill it was to see her again at this year’s Walk without the crutches and with a team of friends.  The message that I hope Alyssa and Hailey took home from the 21,000 people at this year’s walk is that you’re never alone. 

The stories of those two children drive what is both an essential function and brand for JDRF.  At its core JDRF is a charitable organization that drives and funds essential research to cure, treat, and prevent Type-1 diabetes.  Since a group of mothers founded JDRF in 1970, it has contributed $1.6 billion toward research to find a cure–$116 million in 2011 alone.  In many ways, it is invisible work conducted in laboratories and clinics around the world.   But as Alyssa and Hailey show us, it is JDRF’s visible work of programming the Walks and fundraisers that provide a core social purpose and create a powerful brand.

Figure 1 - JDRF Mental Model Map

Two years ago I conducted a communications research study to identify leverageable consumer insights into the Walk to Cure Diabetes.   Part of the study’s methodology utilized a Zaltman-style elicitation analysis that had a number of people affected by Type-1 diabetes assemble a series of pictures that best describe their feelings and thoughts about the disease.  The elicitation study produced a mental model map that started with diabetes and its burdens and laddered up to JDRF, the Walk, and finally, a cure. (Figure 1)  The subjects in the study produced two important and equal mind models of the Walk, one of support, and one of togetherness.  In the togetherness model, the concepts of “empathy” and the thought of “not being alone” stood out among the participants.  To all of the study’s subjects, the Walk represented the possibilities of a cure and the higher level values of happiness, innocence, and freedom. 

Together, this mental map produced a number of important take-aways.

Consumer Insights into Diabetes:

  • Diabetes is hard on families
  • Exceptionally hard on parents
  • Physical and emotional struggle for the patients of Type-1 diabetes
  • Lives are ruled by medicines and machines

Consumer Insights into JDRF:

  • Represents a means to a cure
  • Finding a cure means a return to innocence for our children

Consumer Insights into Walk to Cure Diabetes:

  • Family
  • Coming together
  • Support
  • Reinforces the sense of not being alone

What became very clear from the research is that people with ties to JDRF viewed it as a community.  Not just any community—A Cure Community.

JDRF has done extensive work in the past year to rebrand itself as the Type-1 diabetes organization.  It’s certainly one way to differentiate itself from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) which also supports research but has a core mission of helping people with diabetes live better lives.  The people who continue to support JDRF with their dollars want something more.  They want a cure and a return to the freedom and happiness it represents.  That’s why the consumer insight into JDRF as a cure community is so powerful.  It is the foundation to a brand for JDRF that has real meaning.

2012 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes at MOA

The 21,000 people who raised $2.1 million at the recent JDRF Walk know it.   Now Alyssa Kapaun and Hailey Stark know it, too.  They exist in their parents’ picture frames just as Maddy and Emme exist in my own.

And then there’s that empty frame, too.  I’m holding out to fill it with one giant group-shot of all the people we cure.

OutFOX Diabetes

11 Feb

             I’ve shared with people over the years my passion for finding a cure for Type-1 diabetes.

             I have two very good reasons.

             My oldest daughter Madison  was diagnosed at the age of three, our other daughter Emerson was diagnosed at twelve.  Two children.  Two lives filled with constant blood sugar monitoring and insulin injections.

OutFOX Diabetes Walk Team - Mall of America February 25h, 2012

             For more than a decade my family and I have been active within JDRF to help raise money to find a cure for Type-1 diabetes.  This year my family is joining the Fox 9 family to form a walk team called OutFOX Diabetes.   The Walk takes place February 25th at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.  We don’t necessarily need walkers, but we need supporters.  If you’d like to be a virtual walker with us, click on the hyper link and make a donation to our team.

             We are making incredible progress toward finding a cure.  Last year JDRF spent $116 million on research and much of it is producing encouraging results.

             We are grateful to all who have helped in the past and continue to support the search for a cure.



Natalie Strand and the Power of “I Can”

21 Nov

                Amazing things happen when you put your mind to it.  Natalie Strand has proven it for most of her life.  Diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes when she was just 12 years old, she didn’t let it hold her back.  At an age when most adolescents would view such a diagnosis as a barrier, Strand viewed it as an opportunity.   

             The changes to her body brought on by diabetes led to an intense curiosity about medicine.  That curiosity led to medical school.  Medical school led to Oxford.  Oxford eventually led to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and then to the faculty of UCLA.  These days most American television viewers don’t know Dr. Strand by her title, they know her by her victory—winner of The Amazing Race.   

             Dr. Strand shared her story and her secrets to success this weekend with the families connected to the MinnDakotas chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Each step along her journey Dr. Strand says she’s succeeded by eliminating the words “I can’t” from her vocabulary.

            “I think it’s a very simple thing.  You just have to decide to do it,” Strand said.  “Whatever it is that you are doing, if you decide at the onset that no matter what comes up, you’re going to do whatever it takes.  You’re never going to say I can’t.”

              For most of us, the keys to success are not that simple.  To be sure, they weren’t for Dr. Strand either.   Social psychologists have come up with a unique model to explain how we approach personal obstacles.  In their Theory of Trying, Richard Bagozzi and Paul Warshaw explained that people evaluate goals based upon their attitudes of success and their attitudes toward failure.  (Journal of Consumer Research, 1990)  Failure combined with fear can be powerful motivators—we are often more afraid of loss than we are motivated by success.  (Kahneman, 1979)  It’s all about framing.  Dr. Strand has succeeded by continuously framing her life in terms of success.  Failure is not an option. 

             How refreshing in an era of unemployment, stagnation, and polarization.   At a time when our economy and our political system prove “it can’t,” along comes an amazing winner who shows that as individuals “we can.”

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