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  Back to 2013 Conference Friends for Life 2013 Youth Faculty

Teen Program Staff

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Natalie Bellini, BSN, RN, CDE, has had type 1 diabetes since she was a young child. Within a year of finishing nursing school, she started to care for people with diabetes, focusing first on diabetes in pregnancy then pediatrics and insulin requiring adults. She has worked on the medical side of camps for children and teens in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She has spoken nationally and internationally as an expert in both working with teens and their parents with diabetes as well as infusion set choice, usage and maintenance. Her fundamental goal when developing the teenage curriculum for Children with Diabetes conferences is that each and every teen that attends finds a passion in life and pursues it. She is currently attending Drexel University part time in order to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. Natalie is a senior territory manager with Animas Corporation and mom to Erin.

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Born in Cleveland, Ohio during the time of the burning of the great Cuyahoga River, Neil Benchell, JD, loves to make children laugh. After having spent years on the sideline as the "spouse" of one of the faculty members, Neil decided it was time to get involved. As one of the Teen Staff members, Neil is always in the thick of it trying to make the conferences a memorable experience for all. In his spare time, Neil tries his hand at patent litigation.

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Sam Billetdeaux, diagnosed at age 8, is determined that diabetes will never get in the way of his life dreams. Sam is an active member of the CWD Young Adult program and has traveled to Denmark, Italy, the UK, and all across the United States to exchange ideas with other CWD teens, young adults, and their families. Sam is an avid athlete and enjoys running and working out with friends. He recently graduated from the University of Michigan and currently resides in Brooklyn.

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Dr. Robert Bulgarelli is the Director of Integrative Cardiovascular Medicine for Main Line Health and a Board Certified cardiologist at Riddle Hospital in Media. He serves on the Main Line Health Healthy Workforce Council and chairs Riddle's Medical Nutrition committee, amongst others. Dr. Bob, as his patients call him is Co-Founder of Whole Life Health, a Behavioral Health company whose mission is the transformation of Health Care Delivery in the world. Dr. Bulgarelli's main area of interest and expertise is in the growing field of Mind / Body Spirit medicine and the emphasis on healthy behaviors and choices as the key to vitality and longevity. His company is on the leader in the training of Health Coaches and he utilizes their expertise in his practice of Integrative Cardiovascular Medicine. He is a skilled practitioner and teacher of meditation and is a Board Certified Medical Acupuncturist. In 2002, Dr. Bulgarelli was the 1st Cardiologist in the world to complete the two-year long Associate Fellowship in Integrative Medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil at the University of Arizona. Dr. Bob remains a faculty member with the Associate Fellowship, consulting on and moderating the cardiology and cardiovascular nutrition curriculum. He has been featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 6ABC and CN8. He has been published and quoted in many local and national magazines, including Main Line Today, Men's Health and Shape. A graduate of Philadelphia College of Medicine in 1990, Dr. Bulgarelli completed his medical internship at Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Darby, PA and his medical residency and cardiology fellowship at Lankenau Medical Center. Dr Bulgarelli has been a part of Main Line Health his entire clinical career that now spans over 20 years.

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Martyn Carr, age 24, lives in Scotland. Martyn is studying his Bachelors of Science Adult Nursing degree at the University West of Scotland. Martyn would eventually like to become a Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN). He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was five years old. Martyn and his family have participated in the last eight Friends for Life conferences and helped out at the UK Friends for Life conferences. He has worked with the Elementary, Tween and Teen age groups, and he loves helping out and being with his friends at CWD conferences.


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Kelly L. Close is president of Close Concerns, Inc., a healthcare information firm exclusively focused on the businesses of diabetes and obesity. The mission of Close Concerns is to improve patient outcomes by getting the best information on the state of the fields available globally to whoever needs it – companies, healthcare professionals, patients, and families. Kelly is editor-in-chief of diaTribe, a free online newsletter focused on new research and products for people with diabetes (diaTribe.us) that has over 20,000 subscribers. Additionally, she is active in dQ&A, Close Concerns’ sister company, a market research business that surveys over five thousand people with diabetes each quarter. She is a longtime diabetes advocate, and on the boards of the Diabetes Hands Foundation and the Behavioral Diabetes Institute. Before starting Close Concerns in 2002, Kelly was an equity research analyst at Merrill Lynch in medical technology; prior to this, she worked at McKinsey & Company. Kelly is a graduate of Amherst College, magna cum laude, and of the Harvard Business School. She has had type 1 diabetes for over 25 years.


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Korey K. Hood, PhD, is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Staff Psychologist at UCSF's Madison Center for Pediatric Diabetes. Dr. Hood directs NIH-funded research projects and provides clinical care aimed at promoting health and quality of life outcomes in youth with diabetes and their families. He also serves on national committees for the American Diabetes Association and is on editorial boards for Diabetes Care and the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Dr. Hood is the author of Type 1 Teens: A Guide to Managing Your Life with Diabetes. His research, clinical care, and service are fueled by his personal experience with type 1 diabetes. He was diagnosed as a young adult and has spent more than a decade managing diabetes. He is passionate about helping children and teens with diabetes, and their families, make diabetes a part of their lives while not letting it run their lives.

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Galen Horton was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 15. That summer, at the direction of his healthcare team, he attended a camp in North Carolina for children with diabetes. For the last 24 summers Galen has attended Camp Carolina Trails, working his way up through the program staff. Over the last 17 years, Galen has been a program director for the teenagers at Carolina Trails working to develop leadership and communication skills, fostering a positive mental attitude, and encouraging a strong sense of self-confidence and motivation for his campers through challenging, high adventure programs. Nearly 10 years ago, Galen joined the sales organization at Animas Corporation to marry his work life and his personal passion and commitment for helping others cope with their diabetes. Galen lives in North Carolina with his wife, Kelly, and his 3 children, Tanner, Riley, and Eli.

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Jose Lopez is a law enforcement officer with thirty years of experience in a major metropolitan police department. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1985 as a rookie officer. His assignments as an officer with type 1 diabetes included patrol, investigations, undercover, SWAT, and he is currently a homicide detective lieutenant. A decorated officer, he was awarded his department's Officer of the Year and Gold Medal of Valor.

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Paul Madden, M.Ed., has served as Friends for Life faculty for the past 13 years. Paul is an accomplished author and speaker serving in numerous leadership roles on national and international boards including the American Association of Diabetes Educators, the Diabetes Exercise and Sports Association, the International Diabetes Federation, the American Diabetes Association, the Joslin Diabetes Center, the Young Leaders in Diabetes/IDF, and the JDRF. Paul developed and served in numerous new leadership roles at Joslin Diabetes Center a Harvard Medical School Affiliate including Special Assistant to the President, behavioral medicine, corporate development, advocacy, exercise, and camp administrator/director. Creating new winning solutions that create value and growth for organizations and the people being served is what Paul does best. He empowers, educates and inspires people to explore and adopt healthier lifestyles. Paul touches the soul of the people he works with enabling them to address the challenges of life more fully and positively! Paul is the Global Senior Advisor for Diabetes and Non Communicable Diseases with Project HOPE. Paul has had type 1 diabetes for over 50 years.


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Melissa Moulton, RN, has had type 1 diabetes since the age of 12. Since diagnosis, she knew that she wanted to be a nurse and work with other children with diabetes to help them grow and develop into healthy young people. Melissa currently works in a pediatric endocrinology office and states that she 'loves every second of it - I am finally able to give back what has been given to me, a strength and knowledge to live with this disease.' A runner, Melissa completed her first marathon in Boston in April 2012; she continues to train for future marathons. She is currently working on her Master's degree for Family Nurse Practitioner.

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Adriana Rodenheiser was born in Bogota, Colombia where she was trained as an architect. She is the mother of Kenny and wife to Ken. Kenny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2003, and the Rodenheiser’s attended their first CWD conference in 2004. They have been involved as CWD staff ever since. Adriana believes attending Friends for Life conferences gives them the opportunity to meet new people, and become better educated with the latest information in the diabetes world. A high school Spanish teacher, Adriana is working on a masters’ degree; she loves working with children of all ages.


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Ken Rodenheiser is a vice-president of specialized equipment market for Aramsco, a national distributor with 18 offices in the environmental, Surface Preparation and Restoration Markets. Ken has worked with the teens since 2004. Every year he looks forward to attend Friends for Life conference in July, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.


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Lee Ann Thill, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, has had type 1 diabetes since 1978. She is a registered board-certified art therapist and Pennsylvania licensed professional counselor, helping people with diabetes address issues like depression, burnout, food and body issues, and family conflict through arts-based interventions and psychotherapy in her private practice in suburban Philadelphia. Lee Ann is a doctoral student at Lesley University in Boston. Her current research project, VIAL Project, is a social media website for teens and adults with type 1 diabetes and food and body issues to connect and share arts-based self-expression. She is founder and facilitator of Diabetes Art Day and the World Diabetes Day Postcard Exchange, author of the diabetes blog, The Butter Compartment, and Adjunct Professor of Art Therapy at Holy Family University. Lee Ann enjoys spending time with her husband, Jason, dog, Kaylee, and iguana, Darwin. She believes creative expression is a path to healing.

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Marissa Town, BSN, RN, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 24 months old. She completed her bachelor of science in nursing in 2009 and works as a nurse in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. She loves working with kids who have diabetes. Marissa brings her experiences as a diabetes camp counselor, nurse, and young adult with diabetes as she works with teens and adults at CWD's conferences.

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Jim Vail was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 19 while he was a sophomore at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Jim graduated with a degree in Media Communications and was a producer for CNBC Business news in Washington, D.C., for nine years all the while wrestling with the unpredictability of NPH and Regular insulin. After finally going on a pump in October of 2001 and 'getting his life back,' Jim pursued Animas Corporation, the maker of his insulin pump, for a job and a chance to reach others with diabetes. Jim made the jump from CNBC and was with Animas Corporation until January of 2013 when he joined Dexcom to continue to help others understand, treat and manage diabetes.

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Jill Weissberg-Benchell, Ph.D., C.D.E., Pediatric Psychologist, Associate professor of Psychiatry, Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois. She has been a certified diabetes educator for over 20 years and is an author of numerous research articles, and a co-author of a book on transitioning from pediatric to adult care. Dr. Weissberg-Benchell works with children, teenagers and their families to facilitate adaptation and coping with diabetes and other chronic conditions.


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Charles E. Wiedmeyer DVM, PhD, DACVP is an associate professor of veterinary clinical pathology at the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia, Missouri. He earned his veterinary degree and PhD in veterinary pathology from the University of Illinois. In addition, he is a board-certified veterinary clinical pathologist. Dr. Wiedmeyer's specialty is applying technology to better monitor diabetic veterinary patients. His emphasis in this field is working with dogs and cats but has experience with horse, cows and pigs. Dr. Wiedmeyer has published numerous articles and given many presentations regarding the use of continuous glucose monitoring in veterinary patients and is considered the authority on this subject as it relates to veterinary medicine. Besides research, Dr. Wiedmeyer teaches veterinary students and offers leadership mentoring to a wide diversity of individuals within the veterinary profession.

Tween Program Staff

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Justin Abel attended his first CWD conference in 2002 after his daughter Sailor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December 2001 at age 2. Once he started attending more CWD conferences, his wife Sunshine did not have to twist his arm for him to realize he wanted to get more involved. Justin has been volunteering at CWD conferences since 2006. He is also dad to Sierra, who is a young adult volunteer with CWD.


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Dana Dignard, RD CDE, is a Senior Territory Manager with Animas Canada and has over 20 years experience as a paediatric diabetes educator. Dana has had type 1 diabetes for 28 years and enjoys sharing her personal and professional experience on managing this ever challenging disease. Dana lives in Courtice, Ontario with her husband of 20 years, Daniel, her two children, Mathieu and Cassia, and puppy Kirby.

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Maryam Elarbi was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 10 in 2003 and began attending CWD conferences in 2004. Now age 19 and a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, Maryam enjoys reading (especially Jane Austen and Kurt Vonnegut), writing, blogging, and advocating for human rights in Central & East Africa. Her favorite CWD memories include watching Joe Solowiejczyk being honored for living with type 1 diabetes for 50 years, and meeting Louis and his family from Australia for the first time.

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Grace Grande-Cassell is very excited to be staffing her third year of CWD conferences! She has grown up with a connection to type 1 diabetes because of her grandfather, who was diagnosed at age 14. After graduating from the University of Michigan in May 2012, she moved to New York City where she currently works in the fashion industry. She is overjoyed to be logging another conference with the CWD Youth Program!

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Kaitlyn Karlya is a CWD kid and recently graduated from Stony Brook University with her Bachelor's in Health Science. She recently began her post-graduate studies on a pathway to become a Physician Assistant with an emphasis in diabetes. She is an Emergency Medical Technician at the Medford Ambulance Company in her hometown on Long Island where she was recently elected an officer. She has had diabetes since she was diagnosed at age two in 1992 and has been an advocate for many years.

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Sarah Ketcheson, BEd, BSc, has been living with type 1 for 14 years and counting! The majority of her diabetes 'life' was spent at Camp Huronda, a summer camp for kids with diabetes in Ontario, Canada, where she was both a camper and staff member for 10 years. Sarah is currently teaching at the elementary level in Calgary, Alberta. When not in school, she is lucky enough to hike in the Rocky Mountains as much as possible and go adventuring with the wonderful people of Connected in Motion, also serving as an Ambassador, helping to coordinate programs and events in Western Canada. Sarah has traveled to Africa, throughout Europe, as well as Central and North America. She recently backpacked the West Coast Trail and will be exploring Ecuador and Peru this summer.

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Kelsey Martin was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 12, and attended her first CWD conference two months later. She's since become an active volunteer and plans any vacation/free time around coming to CWD events. Kelsey remains active with her local JDRF chapter, and was the sole Kansas delegate to the 2007 Children's Congress. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism and business, and works in the public relations industry.


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Sarah Melendez, BSN, RN, graduated from West Chester University's nursing program in August 2010. After her son Brady was diagnosed in 2004, she decided to pursue a career in nursing, with a future focus in pediatric endocrinology. In 2005, Sarah and Brady attended their first CWD conference and it has become an integral part of their lives every year. Currently, Sarah lives outside of Philadelphia and works as an Orthopaedic RN at Northeast Orthopaedic's Muscle, Bone and Joint Center in Philadelphia.

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Melissa Pawlowski is a public relations major at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age four. Melissa has three siblings, Sarah, Kayla and Matthew. Matthew also has type 1 diabetes. Melissa enjoys attending Friends For Life Conferences and has been attending since 2003 with her family. Melissa loves working with CWD kids and is glad to be part of the CWD staff.


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Jeremy Pettus, MD, is an endocrinology fellow at the University of California, San Diego. After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes himself at the age of 15, Dr. Pettus has dedicated his career toward treating and educating others with the disease. In addition to his clinical work at UCSD, Dr Pettus is also involved in basic immunology research with a focus on cure based therapies. Finally, Dr Pettus has interests in patient empowerment through education. He is very involved with the not-for-profit organization entitled Taking Control of Your Diabetes. With this organization, Dr Pettus speaks at patient-centered conferences around the country and heads the conference's "Type 1 Diabetes" track.

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Don Plotts is dad to Jessica, Tyler, Rachel and Annie and husband to Holly. Jessica was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000, and their lives haven't been the same since. Shortly after her diagnosis, their entire family decided they wanted to make a difference in the lives of people with diabetes. Don served as the Sports Director for a diabetes camp for six years, has run marathons and ridden in Tour De Cures to raise money and also lobbied congress to change policies. In 2006, Don was finally able to tie his passion and career together, joining Animas. After seven years with Animas, Don recently moved to DexCom where he can continue to help people better manage their diabetes. Don and his family currently reside in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Kenny Rodenheiser, RN, BSN, was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003. He currently lives in New Jersey and is striving to become a CDE. He has been an active part of the diabetes community through CWD, ADA and JDRF for a decade. Kenny looks forward to helping others enjoy CWD conferences as much as he does.


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Deb Ruppert's connection to diabetes began in the 1990's when her dad was diagnosed with type 2 and her uncle with type 1. Deb has participated as Sports Central staff at Friends for Life for several years, and more recently as Tween and Teen program staff. She states, "I feel so lucky to have found CWD and FFL, and I love being able to share what I learn from families who have diabetes as a part of their lives with my own family."

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Adam Town, BSN, RN, graduated from the University of Cincinnati's nursing program in 2009. Adam enjoys working with all children and is interested in pediatric nursing. He lives and works in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Adam enjoys sports of all kinds with a particular interest in baseball. Adam's wife Marissa has had type 1 diabetes for over 23 years.

Elementary Program Staff

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Sierra Abel is the older sister to Sailor Abel, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2001. Sierra attended her first CWD conference with her family in 2002, where she was in the elementary group. She has now worked her way through all the programs, graduating from the teens at FFL 2011. Sierra and her family have been involved with CWD for many years now and she is excited to finally work with the kids. Sierra and her family have just recently moved to New York.

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Sunshine Abel, LVN, is the mother of Sierra and Sailor. She attended her first CWD conference with her family in 2002, after Sailor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 2. Sunshine immediately knew she had found a new family and a new home where kids were experiencing the same thing as Sailor. She then made it her mission to involve her whole family. Sunshine is continuing her education working towards her RN degree. She and husband Justin have volunteered for several years at Friends for Life and CWD conferences.


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Noor Alramahi, 24 years old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of six. She served as a volunteer at her local hospital in the United Arab Emirates, helping newly diagnosed children and their families. Since moving to the San Francisco Bay area in 2012, she has worked with the American Diabetes Association in San Jose. Noor has attended Friends for Life for six years and counting!


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Lorraine Anderson, BSc, RD, CDE, is a registered dietitian and diabetes educator. She has had type 1 diabetes for 25 years and believes that having diabetes has made her a stronger and healthier person. Currently Lorraine is employed as a Clinical Manager with Animas Canada working in the Toronto area and is very passionate about insulin pump therapy. She enjoys working with kids with type 1 diabetes at Camp Huronda in the summer months and is a busy full-time mom/stepmom to her six children Nicholas, Nathan, Scott, Caroline, Caitlyn, and Kara.


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Seth Bryant is a student in the Radiologic Technology program at Aiken Technical College. After being introduced to Children With Diabetes by his girlfriend Caroline Smits, he attended his first conference in January 2011. He enjoys art, and you can find him constantly snapping pictures. Seth is very excited to join the CWD elementary staff and work with the kids this summer!

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Connor Dunlap is attending Fordham University, studying Theatrical Arts. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age nine in 2003. He first attended Friends for Life in 2006 and has loved every second that has followed. Connor is grateful to have the opportunity to give back to the organization that brought him so much hope and joy. Thanks CWD!

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Lynet Fox is the mother of three girls, Marisa (19), Jessica (17), and Erica (15). She attended her first CWD conference in 2004 after Erica was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She has not missed a Friends for Life Conference since first attending. Her daughter, Jessica, was diagnosed in December 2010 at the age of 16. Lynet currently teaches high school physics. The entire family looks forward to conference in Orlando each summer. She has volunteered in different capacities at Friends for Life conferences over the past six years.

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Brian Grant, RN, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002. He loves working with people who have diabetes, and is looking forward to his fourth Friends for Life conference. Brian hopes one day to become a CDE. He currently resides in Gettysburg, PA, and works for Animas Corporation.

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Jen Hanson, BKin, BEd, MEd, has been living with diabetes for 26 years. She spent many a summer at Camp Huronda, an Ontario based camp for children with diabetes, were her love for adventure was fostered. Jen has a background in kinesiology, is a certified elementary school teacher, and has completed her master of education degree, researching community development through experiential diabetes education. Jen is the Director of Operations at Connected in Motion, has been involved with Children with Diabetes FFL in the UK, Canada, and the US, since 2009, and is a faculty member with the International Diabetes Federation's Young Leader's program. Jen has traveled throughout North America, Central America, to Europe, the United Arab Emirates and is excited to continue her adventures in Peru and Australia in 2013.

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Timothy Hitchcock is currently studying Astrophysics at the University of Cincinnati. His older sister Marissa was diagnosed with type 1 in 1989. Tim is a founding father of a fraternity at the University of Cincinnati, and he is looking forward to using the leadership skills he has learned thus far to work with the elementary kids.

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Kara Hunsche has been living with type 1 diabetes since February 23, 2001. She attended her first CWD conference in 2003 where she found true Friends For Life. Kara is proud to say she was the first child at Cincinnati Childrens to go untethered. This fall she will attend Wright State University. She is excited to be able to work with the CWD kids.

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Chad Kyllo is 19 years old and has had diabetes since he was 2. He was diagnosed with celiac when he was seven. Chad has attended CWD FFL conferences in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010, along with conferences in Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. Chad is passionate about the electronics world and enjoys off-roading with his 4x4 truck. He attended camp for children with diabetes since the age of six including leadership training. He has served as a "Midnight Rambler" at Camp Elphinstone in Gibsons, BC working with the medical staff going around doing the midnight and 3 a.m. blood tests of the campers.


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Lauren Lanning, mom of Monica, 19, dx 8/96, pumping 5/99, CGM 9/05, and Sarah, 17 ... her CWD "sig line." Lauren became involved with CWD shortly after her daughter was diagnosed in 1996. She has been involved in the CWD diabetes conferences since the very first gathering in Orlando in 2000, where she volunteered to make name badges. Lauren now coordinates the Elementary Programming for every CWD conference. Back home in Denver, she has served on the boards of the JDRF and CWD Foundation. She and her husband Steve have chaired and coached her local JDRF Ride team for many years. Lauren has worked as an elementary school computer teacher and now works at The Children's Diabetes Foundation at Denver as the IT Manager.

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Monica Lanning is 19 years old and has had type 1 diabetes since the age of two. She has been to every single CWD Friends for Life Orlando conference – all 13 of them – and many of the regional conferences. Monica was a Diabetes Mentor – and participates in many research studies. Monica refers to her CWD friends as "family" and can't wait for the next "family reunion." She studies biology at the University of Chicago. She is excited to give back to the CWD elementary kids what was given to her.


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Sarah Loebner, age 20, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 9 1/2 in 2002. She attended her first CWD Friends For Life conference exactly a month later, and has returned every year since. She is a student at Scripps College majoring in Human Biology. Her favorite pastimes are laughing hysterically, singing, playing with dogs, and giving big hugs. Sarah is so glad to be a member of the CWD staff that gave her so much support, love, and confidence as a younger CWD participant, and she is so excited to make more Friends For Life at this year's conference!

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Chelsea Meredith, age 22, has grown up around diabetes; her brother Jeremy was diagnosed in 2000. She attended her first Friends for Life conference with her family in 2003 and has been to many CWD regional and annual conferences since that time. She loves working with kids and is a dance and acrobatics teacher for young children. Chelsea will graduate from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in May 2013 with an honors degree in history. She has plans to continue her education with a masters degree in public history in the coming year. Chelsea is also an aerialist and spends all of her free time hanging from the rafters on a trapeze.

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Jeremy Meredith, 19, has had type 1 diabetes for 13 years; he was diagnosed in May of 2000 when he was six years old. Jeremy has been attending CWD conferences since 2003; this will be his 11th FFL Orlando conference. He currently attends St. Petersburg College, working towards his AS and a physical therapy assistant certificate. Jeremy plans to major in sports medicine and physical therapy. He loves baseball! Jeremy is excited to be elementary staff and to be with his CWD family.

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Tayler Michaelson is 19 years old and was diagnosed at age 10. He has attended seven CWD conferences with his family and recently volunteered at his first Friends for Life in Toronto. Tayler has played volleyball for as long has he has had type 1. He hopes to pursue a degree in Social Work at Ryerson University in Toronto and eventually work in a Pediatric Diabetes Clinic helping youth with type 1 Tayler has done speaking engagements with Ontario Power Generation, advocating type 1 and discussing the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. He is also currently working part-time with Animas Canada.

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Kenneth P. Moritsugu, MD, MPH, FACPM joined the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies in October 2007. Serving as Chairman of the Johnson & Johnson Diabetes Institute, he will develop innovative programs and strategies that will help Johnson & Johnson companies and the health care community better address the delivery of diabetes care around the world. Born in Hawaii, Dr. Moritsugu achieved Admiralty status within the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, was the Federal representative to numerous national health care agencies and consulted with several international organizations and governments. Before serving as Acting Surgeon General in 2006, Dr. Moritsugu was the Deputy Surgeon General and the principal assistant and advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General for nearly ten years. Having completed residencies in internal medicine and in preventive medicine, Dr. Moritsugu is Board Certified in preventive medicine and holds Fellowships in the American College of Preventive Medicine, the Royal Society of Health, and the Royal Society of Medicine. Dr. Moritsugu has Type 1 diabetes and appreciates the many challenges facing patients -- and diabetes professionals -- today.


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Jesse Nagel, 21, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 9 1/2 years old. He is studying nursing the State University of NY at Buffalo. Jesse is a member of the crew team and is a senator for the Resident Hall Association. He has traveled to Washington, DC as an advocate with the JDRF Children's Congress and the ADA Call to Congress, and will continue meeting with his representatives until a cure is found. He has attended every FFL Orlando since 2003 as part of the elementary, tween, and teen groups. Jesse is very excited to become an official member of the FFL staff.


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Chris Opdenaker is mom to Hannah and Rachael and wife to Jim. Hannah was diagnosed with diabetes in 1999 at age 3. The Opdenakers first became involved with CWD in 2001 -- they have printed all of the conference t-shirts ever since 2001! Chris states that CWD has been a blessing for her family from day one and continues to be each year. Chris has also been involved in ADA walks and several local pump support programs for children and parents. She is employed as a digital press operator for an advertising company.

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Jessica Plotts is a student at the University of Tennessee, studying Sociology. She was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 5 in 2000. Jessica has been coming to Friends for Life conferences since 2000, and has attended the ADA Call to Congress three times. She is also a camp counselor at the ADA’s Camp Sugarfalls every summer.

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Kara Podjasek was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 8 years old. She is now 21 and is studying to receive her Bachelors of Science in Nursing at Loyola University Chicago, where she is set to graduate in May 2014. Kara currently works at a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Chicago, and one day hopes to become a nurse practitioner. Kara's mom, Mary Podjasek, is the President of the Diabetes Scholars Foundation. Kara and her entire family have been involved with the CWD Community since 2002, and they have not missed a Friends For Life Conference since then! This will be Kara’s 3rd year on FFL staff and she is very excited to continue to work with the elementary group.

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Michelle Rago is an attorney and mom of two children with diabetes. Her son Trent was diagnosed at age 4 in 2000. Her family adopted daughter Maya -- diagnosed at one month -- from foster care in 2006. Her daughter Michela is proud to be a caregiver. Michelle is active with the American Diabetes Association Legal Advocacy group. She was awarded the Ben Teel Memorial Prize for Public Service at Harvard (where she founded a homeless shelter); the Charles Evan Hughes Fellowship for Public Service at Columbia Law School (where she represented children in foster care and worked on desegregation); and the Jeff Hitchcock Distinguished Service Award (for her work with CWD families).

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Caroline Smits is a student in the medical assisting program at Aiken Technical College and has been living with type 1 diabetes since July 2001. Caroline and her family attended their first Friends for Life Conference in 2003 and have been involved with CWD ever since. Now that Caroline has gone through all of the youth programs, she is excited to continue reaching out to other families living with diabetes as she becomes part of the CWD staff.

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Wendy Smits is a recent graduate of nursing school at the University of South Carolina. She is excited to finally begin her career as a registered nurse. Wendy attended her first CWD conference in 2003, two years after her sister Caroline was diagnosed with diabetes. She looks forward to seeing her CWD family and is ready to be back with the elementary kids this year!


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Georgia Spiropoulos is Alexa's Mom. Alexa was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 14 months old. Over the past 14 years, Georgia and her husband have watched the diabetes at every developmental stage of Alexa's life. Their most important lesson in this journey was realizing "Alexa will learn how to deal with her diabetes from you." That light bulb moment changed their lives and their advocacy work began. Georgia's volunteer efforts include JDRF fundraising, government advocacy and outreach. She volunteers at the local children's hospital helping newly diagnosed children and their families understand the road ahead. She created outreach programs of support and information sharing within the community. Georgia states, "the feeling of isolation can be overwhelming and that is what I am trying to help families minimize. We love this Friends for Life conference. This is the week Alexa feels normal and does not have to explain to anyone why she is poking her finger."


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Jenny Vandevelde was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2003. A recent graduate from San Diego State University, she is a physical education teacher at an elementary school in San Diego, CA and loves to play basketball and four square with her kids during their lunch time. She is a snowboarding and wakeboarding addict. Jenny coaches at Riding on Insulin, a ski and snowboard camp for kids with type 1. She also loves playing soccer. Her most recent accomplishment is her third bike ride through Death Valley for JDRF...clocking in at 102 miles and raising $10,000. In October 2008, she ran as one of the 25 Medtronic Global Heroes in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Both of her pump sites went bad and her timing chip malfunctioned, but despite those little disasters, she had a great time. Jenny attended her first CWD conference in San Diego in 2005 and has been in love with CWD events since then.


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Kevin Woodward is delighted to be on FFL's Youth Faculty for the third year. Kevin is in awe of the courage, determination and positive attitude of CWD kids and has learned so much about diabetes and fighting spirit from these brave kids and Devin. He has been employed by Acme Markets for 37 years, is a devout Orioles and Ravens fan, and enjoys cycling, gardening, cooking, and looks forward to mastering the greens with Crystal Jackson this summer.

Siblings Staff

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Carolyn Billetdeaux has been attending FFL conferences since the age of 13. After growing up through the Teen and College Age programs, she now works as a leader with the Tween and Sibling programs. She presents diabetes as a family disease and focuses on sharing the sibling side of the experience. Carolyn majored in management and organizational behavior at New York University, and currently works as a Sustainability Consultant in the metro-DC area.

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Zakariyya Elarbi is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh. After his twin sister Maryam was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he knew that diabetes would forever play an important role in his life. Zak enjoys spending his free time reading, going to the gym, and hanging out with his friends. Zak is excited that he can finally give back to the CWD community by volunteering at the conferences with his close friends and family.


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Jessica T. Markowitz, PhD, is a Pediatric Psychologist and Research Associate at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, MA. She works with families in the Pediatric, Adolescent, & Young Adult clinic at Joslin and is involved in research projects aimed at improving quality of life and health outcomes in youth with diabetes. Dr. Markowitz has grant funding from the NIH/NIDDK to learn more about how to support youth with type 1 diabetes as they transition to greater self-care and eventually transfer to adult diabetes care providers. She also runs a support group at Joslin for young adults with type 1 diabetes. Dr. Markowitz grew up with type 1 diabetes in her family, as her sister was diagnosed at a young age.

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Austin Martin is a student at UCLA studying computer science. He is younger brother to Kelsey, who has was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12. He enjoys attending CWD conferences and discussing with other siblings how diabetes affects the entire family. He is also a JDRF volunteer within the Kansas City chapter. Austin enjoys sports, working out, and designing and programming Apple iOS games.

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Jill Weissberg-Benchell, Ph.D., C.D.E., Pediatric Psychologist, Associate professor of Psychiatry, Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois. She has been a certified diabetes educator for over 20 years and is an author of numerous research articles, and a co-author of a book on transitioning from pediatric to adult care. Dr. Weissberg-Benchell works with children, teenagers and their families to facilitate adaptation and coping with diabetes and other chronic conditions.


Kindergarten, Pre-K and Childcare

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Mary Babin Bulgarelli, RN, BSN, CDE, has served as the childcare coordinator since the very first CWD conference. Mary leads a team of certified diabetes educators providing care and fun in a safe environment for kids under age six with and without diabetes. Providing this service alleviates the concerns of many parents of kids with diabetes – allowing them to attend the sessions with peace of mind knowing that their children are cared for by skilled professionals. This supports Mary's belief that education is the key to successful blood glucose management. Mary has devoted her career to the world of medicine. As a graduate of Eastern University and Presbyterian School of Nursing, Mary has been in intensive care nursing for over 25 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for 18. This busy mom and devoted professional has been involved with CWD since 2001. You can spot her at the conferences-she's the one with the trail of kids behind her!

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Jocelyn Budd, age 21, is a proud Hoosier currently enrolled at Indiana University studying Sports Communication. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2005 and has been attending CWD conferences for six years. CWD has been a life changing experience for her, and she is excited to volunteer and give back to the community that has provided so much unconditional love and support.

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Marisa Fox is studying nursing at East Texas Baptist University. This will be her seventh Friends for Life conference to attend since her youngest sister was diagnosed in 2004. Her other sister was diagnosed in December 2010 at the age of 16. Marisa is excited about attending the FFL conference this year and being able to work with the younger kids in childcare.

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Audrey Greenfield has been involved with CWD conferences since 2001. A strong advocate of empowerment through knowledge and support, Audrey has stressed the importance of Friends for Life conferences to CWD families and to her colleagues within the Diabetes Franchise of Johnson and Johnson. Early in her career, Audrey was a schoolteacher in Brooklyn, New York; she has always enjoyed working with children. Recently retired from her position as Worldwide Vice President of Advocacy and Professional Relations for the Diabetes Franchise of Johnson & Johnson, Audrey now focuses on her most important job -- Becky's mom! She is thrilled to be working with the childcare program at Friends for Life.


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Jane Hunsche, RN, is the mother of Kara and Philip and wife of Dave. Kara was diagnosed in 2001 at the age of 6. Jane has been advocating for Kara and others with diabetes ever since. Jane is a Registered Nurse; she worked in Neonatal Intensive Care for 21 years has now moved on to Adult Home Care. Jane teaches adults with type 2 how to care for their diabetes. She says she is "thrilled to be able to give back to CWD families for all that has been given to us."

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Alyssa Kyllo runs on insulin! She is 22 and in university, pursuing a career in Animal Health. At the age of seven, Alyssa was diagnosed with type 1, two years after her brother. Alyssa's FFL experience began in Pasadena in 2002, followed by Los Angeles (2004), Orlando (2006, 2010, 2012), Seattle (2008, 2009 and 2011), Toronto (2009) and Vancouver (2010). Diabetes doesn’t stop Alyssa’s passion for the sport of curling. At the age of eight, she started attending Camp Kakhamela, and continued through their leadership program to become a counselor. At the moment she is living in Kamloops, B.C., and is the senior counselor for the Kamloops BCSPCA. Alyssa loves working with the CWD kids!


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Pam Loebner is a California public elementary school teacher who has worked in both special education and regular education classrooms for 25 years. Since becoming a CWD mom, Pam has assisted the district nurse with education for families and teachers when newly diagnosed or newly enrolled students arrive. While always working as an advocate for student needs, Pam focuses on ensuring equal access to all school activities for children with diabetes. Pam discovered the CWD website 30 minutes after her daughter's diagnosis in June 2002 when Sarah was 9 1/2. Pam and her family haven't missed a CWD conference since.

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Kara Martin is mom to Kelsey, diagnosed in November 2002 at age 12, and Austin, a college student. She and her family have been involved in CWD conferences since January 2003. Kara has been active in the Kansas City JDRF Chapter since Kelsey was diagnosed, and tutors inner city elementary children. Kara is also wife to John, and mom to her two furry children, Ruby and Pearl.


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Midge McBryant is grandma to Jeremy (dx'd 5/2000), Chelsea and Bailey. She lives in St. Petersburg, FL and works in a law firm as a paralegal. Midge has been attending Friends for Life conferences since 2003. She enjoys working with children and is a huge Tampa Bay Rays fan!

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Lisa Pitt is an RN and mom to four beautiful daughters. Lisa and her family have been attending CWD conferences since her oldest was diagnosed with type 1 at age 3 in 2003. She has been volunteering in childcare since 2010 and looks forward every year to seeing her "extended" family - CWD. In addition to being a full-time mom, she is also a full-time cardiac nurse in the acute care setting. She is the go-to person on the hospital unit when it comes to diabetes care. She believes constant education is the key to managing a chronic illness.


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Helen Rodio, 24, is a recent graduate of The College of New Jersey. Helen has a strong dance background and spent last summer traveling the country teaching middle school and high school dance teams with Universal Dance Association. Currently, Helen is teaching first grade at Folsom Elementary School. This is her third year at the Friends for Life conference, and she is thrilled to be back!


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Brandy Schmidt is Jeff's wife (Schmidty to the teens) and mother of two, Brandon, dx'd 1997, and Rhiannon, dx'd 2009. When Brandon was diagnosed, Brandy came home from the hospital and found CWD on the first search. She has been addicted to CWD since then. She has been an advocate for all military families dealing with diabetes. She helped implement a gluten free policy in San Diego county public schools when Brandon was diagnosed with celiac in 2005. She has been dubbed the "Gluten Free Police" at conferences. Brandy now lives in North Carolina with her husband, two kids, four dogs and a bearded dragon!

  Friends for Life 2013 Conference and Expo  
  Introduction - Registration - Exhibitors - Sponsors - Convention Center Map (PDF)  
  Faculty - Youth Faculty - Grandparents Faculty - CWD Staff - Sports Central Staff  
  Schedule: Parents & Adults - Youth - Focus Groups - Social Events  
  Childcare Form (PDF) - FAQs  
  Reports from 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 - 2008 - 2007 - 2006 - 2005 - 2004 - 2003 - 2002 - 2001  



                 
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Last Updated: Friday November 29, 2013 18:47:54
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