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The NEW Jerry the Bear.

Since they’re local to me here in Rhode Island, I drove up to the Jerry the Bear office to meet with my friends Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung, creators of Jerry the Bear.

“It’s awesome to see you guys! Where have you been the last few years?”

After hugs and hellos, I realized my question was unfair. Because they haven’t been hiding but instead, the team behind Jerry the Bear has been working tirelessly to change their business in efforts to meet their mission of getting Jerry into the hands of every child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes globally.

That’s quite a mission. But if anyone can accomplish this goal, the driven, passionate, creative, and all-heart team behind Jerry can.

Just your friendly neighborhood Jerry the Bear!

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“As a business, we know that Jerry the Bear works, but in order to succeed and survive, we need to make the business work. We’ve been working to move our company from a direct to consumer model to a business-to-business model. This means we’re not selling our bears directly to people but instead have partnered with two different distributors in order to get Jerry into kids’ hands,” said Jerry the Bear co-founder and CEO, Aaron Horowitz.

Namely, they’ve partnered with Beyond Type 1 to handle domestic and international orders (except Canada) and Diabetes Express for our neighbors to the north.

“We want to improve life with diabetes for kids by giving them something positive to associate with diabetes,” said Hannah Chung, co-founder and CCO.

The Sproutel team did a lot of research in developing new Jerry. In addition to marathon sessions with post it notes, building paper prototypes, and “body storming,” the team went into the field to access kids in their natural play habitats. Hannah told me that she went to playgrounds during the development phase in order to work with kids and see if they could hold a bear and a phone at the same time, testing out how the app might be physically managed by their target age range of 4 – 9 years old.

“I’d go into the playground with a bear peeking out of the back of my backpack and a handful of permission slips, talking with kids and their parents. We play games like Simon Says in order to see if kids could find the bear’s belly button or elbow, and whether or not they preferred phones or tablets.”

The mental image of Hannah traipsing through Rhode Island playgrounds with a mission to improve the diabetes experience and a stuffed animal keeping watch over her shoulder sums up the Jerry philosophy for me. This team – Hannah, Aaron, Joel Schwartz, and Brian Oley – are changing the way newly diagnosed kids with diabetes are introduced to diabetes.

I think about my own diagnosis back in 1986 – what a difference it would have made to be handed a friendly bear instead of an orange to practice injections on.

In meeting the new Jerry the Bear, the first thing I noticed was that the touch screen tummy of his predecessor was gone. Coming in at a price point of $55 versus the $299 cost of Original Jerry, New Jerry (henceforth known simply as Jerry) is a soft, plush animal without any plastic or metal hardware attached to him. He’s snuggle-ready. Looking similar to my daughter’s army of Build A Bear stuffed animals and sporting giant, Beanie Boo-esque eyes, Jerry looks like huggable buddy, the perfect comfort companion for kids with diabetes.

What’s replaced the touch screen belly, however, is an amazing upgrade. Jerry now comes with a digital world that lives on an iOS or Android device, and the app is completely free. And on Jerry’s plush body are scannable patches that serve as unique QR codes, giving rise to augmented reality play.

“We were excited to see Pokemon Go! come out and see such success,” said Aaron. “Jerry has that same kind of virtual world superimposed onto the real world. Now it is easier for Jerry’s actions to be procedurally detailed.”

Checking Jerry's BG.

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This means that you’re not just squeezing the pad of Jerry’s finger, but instead you’re walking through all the details of checking blood sugar, from putting the test strip into the meter, pricking his finger, squeezing out a drop of blood, and applying the blood to the strip. The tasks feel real, and they feel thorough.

DO feed the bear!

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The app doesn’t require an actual Jerry the Bear stuffed animal to engage in Jerry’s world, though, and that’s one of my favorite upgrades to this experience. While Jerry himself requires a purchase, the app is free for download. And with that download comes a full world of diabetes experiential learning through the Jerry lens.

“My favorite things about [new] Jerry are that you can explore Jerry’s world in full just on the app, and also that scanning his sites gives you detailed steps around how to use Jerry’s diabetes kit,” shared Hannah. Aaron agreed, adding, “Also that you can experience Jerry instantly through the app. And that the action of scanning changes the world around you, through augmented reality play.”

“What’s the weirdest thing you saw during the test group sessions?” I asked.

Aaron laughed. “You wouldn’t believe how often kids feed Jerry’s butt.”

So there’s that.

While Jerry is aimed at helping kids in the  4 – 9 year old range who are newly diagnosed with diabetes, his potential reaches FAR past that specific demographic.  Jerry, in our home, has been used to help my daughter understand her mother’s diabetes.  He’s been a teaching tool to show kids in her class and our neighborhood what diabetes is all about.  Imagine Jerry as part of a diabetes camp experience, where teenagers can lean on levity and being silly with a stuffed animal to work through some of their frustrations.  Or helping open up discussions for all age ranges about diabetes distress or burnout.  Jerry could be a powerful conduit for conversation for all people touched by diabetes.

This little bear has potential, and plenty of it.

One more thing:  I’d love to share Jerry with two Six Until Me readers, and all you need to do is leave a comment.  Through a random number generator, I’ll select two commenters to ship a snuggly Jerry to.  This giveaway will be open until Sunday night at midnight eastern time, and winners will be notified by email.

Want to enter?  Leave a comment, and be sure to include your email!

You can check out Jerry the Bear’s new app by downloading it from iTunes or Google Play. You can also follow Jerry on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. To order your own Jerry, visit Beyond Type 1 (or Diabetes Express, if you’re in Canada). Thanks to the Sproutel team for letting me come over and play!

Birdy the Kid and Jerry the Bear.

“Jerry has diabetes, like you do, mom.  So I give him food and insulin and check his blood sugar and he likes to play archery.”

A brief pause as Birdy rand her hands over Jerry’s soft bear ears.

“Mom, what’s archery?”

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

[Disclosure:  Jerry was a gift from Hannah to Birdy.  We did not purchase Jerry.]

Yesterday, Hannah Chung from Sproutel kindly visited Birdzone and I to drop off a new friend for my daughter:  Jerry the Bear.  Jerry is a stuffed animal bear who has type 1 diabetes, and part of snuggling him and playing with him can also include checking his blood sugar by pressing a button on his paw.  Developed to help kids make sense of their own diabetes diagnosis, Jerry helps normalize diabetes by being a kindred spirit who also needs insulin and glucose tabs. 

He’s a stuffed animal who happens to have diabetes.  Similar to how I’m a mom who happens to have diabetes.

And that’s exactly how I want my daughter to learn about life with diabetes, with the constant, comfortable caveat that diabetes provides a to-do list, but it can be done.  And it can be fun.

Birdy knows quite a bit about diabetes, but mostly the brass tacks sort of stuff.  She likes to press the button on my lancing device (though she’s always surprised when a drop of blood comes out – “Does that hurt, Mom?”  “No, kiddo.”  “Are you sure?  Because I see blood.”), she prides herself on selecting the spot for my insulin pump infusion set, and she has a solid grasp on the meaning of the sounds ringing out from my Dexcom.

What she and I have not discussed, however, is what so many of the numbers mean.  She knows that my glucose meter gives me numbers of some kind and that I respond to them with certain sets of actions, but the numbers aren’t in context.  165 means the same at 50 means the same as 433 … nothing.  They are just numbers, or at least they were, until yesterday.  Yesterday, through her interactions with Jerry, Birdy learned what “high” and “low” look like as glucose numbers.

“Jerry is high.  See?  His number is one-seven-six.  He has to pee.  I need to give him some water and some insulin,” she said to me yesterday and she and Jerry were coloring at the kitchen table.

“Oh yeah?  So what will you do, then?”

“Mom, I already said I will give him insulin.  And some water.  I know what I’m doing.”

“Okay then,” and I turned away so she couldn’t see me smirking.

Later in the afternoon, she asked me how many glucose tabs she needed to give to Jerry if his blood sugar was low.

“How many do I usually take?” I asked her.

“You stack them up on the counter.  You take four.  Is four right, mom?”

(And this is where she teaches me something  – I do stack up the glucose tabs on the counter before I eat them.  I take out a set number and make sure I eat precisely what I take out, to help avoid over-treating and to also help protect me from forgetting to eat enough in the flurry of a hypoglycemic episode.)

“Yes, four should do it.”

“Okay.”  She “feeds” Jerry four glucose tabs and checks his blood sugar.  “Oh, I fixed it.  He’s not low anymore.”  She smiles, satisfied.  “Hey, do you know that if I smush his fur down and draw my finger through it, I can make eyebrows for Jerry?”

I want her to continue to draw eyebrows on Jerry.  Just because his little stuffed pancreas doesn’t splutter the way it should doesn’t mean he should have weak eyebrow game, yeah?

As she learns, I want her to feel safe and feel protected, empowered to ask and to help.  Resources like Jerry aren’t just for kids with diabetes, but for kids touched by diabetes on all levels.  I want my daughter to learn about my diabetes absent discussions about complications, fear, and pity.  I want her to see type 1 diabetes in the context of my actual life, which is filled with joy and chaos unrelated to my health.  She should know about this health condition because it’s part of what I do every day, and part of what she does, too, after a fashion.

Because it’s not about diabetes; it’s about life.

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