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An In-Depth Look at the Diabetes UnConference.

Peer to peer support has been shown to be highly beneficial to those living with diabetes. The report, “Peer Support in Health – Evidence to Action,” summarizing findings from the first National Peer Support Collaborative Learning Network shared that: “Among 20 studies of diabetes management, 19 showed statistically significant evidence of benefits of peer support.”  In keeping with that theme, The Diabetes UnConference, the first peer-to-peer support conference for all adults with diabetes, is on tap for March 2015.

Founded by Christel Marchand Aprigliano, The Diabetes UnConference is facilitated by volunteers well known to the diabetes community: Bennet Dunlap, Heather Gabel, Manny Hernandez, Scott K. Johnson, George Simmons, Dr. Nicole Berelos, PhD, MPH, CDE and Kerri Sparling [me … can you tell this part was a bit of a cut-and-paste from the “about” page on the UnConference website?  Yes ma’am.]  These diabetes community leaders are familiar with the topics that will be covered; each live with diabetes.

The Diabetes UnConference will be held at the Flamingo Las Vegas from March 12 – 15, 2015, and today, I’m talking with founder Christel Aprigliano about the when, how, and most importantly the why of this ground-breaking event.

Kerri:  I know you.  And think you’re awesome.  For those who haven’t met you yet, who are you, and what’s your connection to diabetes?

Christel:  I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of Six Until Me times two. (That would be twelve years old, if you have problems with math like I do.)  I didn’t know many other Type 1s growing up and spent a lot of my teens and early 20s ignoring the physical and psychological issues of having this disease. I had a great medical team that stuck with me and helped me to learn how to live with it, not fight against it.

In August of 2005, I complained to my then boyfriend (now husband) that there weren’t any weekly podcasts about diabetes. Next thing I knew, we had started diabeticfeed, talking about diabetes research news and interviewing people doing amazing things with diabetes. (This interview was in January, 2006 with a woman named Kerri Morrone. We talked about Jettas and diabetes.)

I joke about being a part of the DOC before it was the DOC. While we stopped producing diabeticfeed, I’m doing other things: writing at ThePerfectD, working with other advocates on cool projects like StripSafely and CGMSafely and founding The Diabetes UnConference. While I’m not thrilled to have diabetes, some of my most favorite people in the universe came from connecting with others because of it.

Kerri:  There are a lot of conferences that center around diabetes.  Why the UnConference? 

Christel:  I’ve been to a lot of diabetes conferences and some of the best experiences I’ve had are not in the research sessions or keynote presentations; it’s hallway moments when I’m connecting with another Type 1 or sitting around a lunch table sharing stories and tips. I would leave these conferences wishing that I had more time to talk about the emotional aspects of having this disease and how to live well with it.

During a brainstorming session at the Medtronic Advocacy Summit in January, a question was asked: “What could you do this year in the diabetes community to make a difference?” And the next thing I know, I’m saying that I wanted to have a conference that would bring adults with diabetes together to talk about living with diabetes and learning from each other  – an “unconference.”  (Unconference is a concept made popular by the tech community, where the agenda is decided by the participants during the first hour of the conference. No keynotes, no research sessions, just talking and sharing in a safe environment where there’s no judgement.)

What also makes The Diabetes UnConference unique is that it will bring type 1 and type 2 adults together in one room for a multi-day conference. No other conference does that. We all have non-functioning pancreases (only varying by degree), we have many of the same long-term complications, we all have to deal with depression and burnout and stigma, and we all want to live well with diabetes. We can learn from each other in a safe environment.

Kerri:  What was the scariest thing about taking the leap to put this conference together?  What was the most empowering?

Christel:  The scariest thing has been the idea that I’d be sitting in a huge meeting room in Las Vegas by myself, eating several thousands of dollars worth of food by myself to fulfill the contract that I signed with The Flamingo. I don’t have enough insulin to bolus for it all! (Thankfully, everyone I’ve spoken with about The Diabetes UnConference has been excited about it.)

Really it’s the idea that there people out there who need and want to talk with other people with diabetes and don’t know that this exists. It’s always that way with something new and innovative, isn’t it? We also have scholarships available for those who do want to come but may not have the financial resources to attend.

The most empowering? Knowing that it’s the community that is making this happen. I may have had the initial idea, but without amazing facilitators and participants who want to create this unforgettable experience is mind-blowing. This is about a community helping each other, learning from each other, and connecting with each other. This community empowers me to believe that we can do so much when we listen to each other.

Kerri:  Why should people attend the conference?

Christel:  We spent a few hours each year talking with our healthcare team, mostly about lab results and medication adjustments or treatment recommendations. The rest of the year, we’re on our own. We don’t have time to talk with them about our feelings surrounding living day-to-day with diabetes.

Our community is amazing. We can talk about the emotional aspects of living with diabetes online, but nothing can take the place of looking into each other’s eyes when you talk about fears and burnout. It’s rare to find someone willing to talk about diabetes sexual dysfunction in public, but by creating a safe environment where others might have the same issue and may have a solution? You may not feel comfortable talking about job discrimination online, but in person? I want people to have a safe place where they can express their feelings and get support and hopefully options…

Plus, when the diabetes community gets together, we build these incredible friendships and have an insane amount of fun. Laughter is always in ample supply.

I don’t want people to feel alone with their diabetes. I felt alone for years. That’s why people should attend.

Kerri:  How can people register? 

Christel:  Go to www.DiabetesUnConference.com to register and learn more about the conference. (It’s March 13 – 15, 2015 and being held at The Flamingo Las Vegas. We got great rates for the hotel, too!)

Our scholarship applications are open until September 30, 2014.

We’ve got some wonderful surprises up our sleeve, thanks to our sponsors. Insulet, Dexcom, Roche, and B-D have committed to helping make this conference happen, and I’m so grateful. (That being said, any company who is interested in helping can contact us and be a part of this.)

Kerri:  Thanks, Christel.  And for those reading, the scholarship applications are open until September 30th, so if you’d like to apply, please click over and send in your applicationHope to see you all in March in Las Vegas!!

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. jen #

    do you know of any diabetes conferences for kids? my 11 year old has had a rough patch and really needs some positive peer pressure. Thanks!

    09/9/14; 11:31 am
    • Richard Vaughn #

      Jen, the Friends For Life conference is held in Orlando, FL each year. It is for type 1 people, and many type 1 kids and their families attend. The conference was originally created for type 1 children, and their families, and the first conference was held in the year 2000. I was there in 2013 and there were more than 3000 people attending. It is a great conference in July, every year. That is the month that all children seem to be out of school, and available to attend the conference. I encourage you to research the Friend For Life conference, 2014. There is a full report for that year. There would not be much at this early date for the upcoming 2015 conference.

      09/14/14; 10:28 am
    • Have you checked out http://www.childrenwithdiabetes.com? There’s an annual conference in July that takes place in Orlando, and it’s centered around families with diabetes. Really powerful stuff.

      09/22/14; 6:12 pm
  2. Richard Vaughn #

    Kerri, thanks for posting about the UnConference. I would love to attend, but it would be to much for me in 2015 since I have three other trips planned. Too expensive, and too physically draining. I love the intended format for the conference, and I have talked with Christel about it. I know it will be a very successful conference.

    09/14/14; 10:53 am

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