By: Barbara Ross
The Flamingo Flock diabetes awareness campaign is the brainchild of 9-year-old Noah Brokmeier, “The Diabetes Dude.” Noah’s blue flamingos are landing on lawns nationwide and appearing at big events like the Boston Marathon. Wherever they go, the birds pose for pictures, which are then posted on Noah’s website, www.thediabetesdude.com. The location of the birds is also flagged on his “official flamingo tracking map,” to show the progress and growth of the campaign.
Noah’s involvement with diabetes education has grown out of his experiences as a child living with type 1 diabetes. In the three years since he was diagnosed with the disease at the age of six, Noah and his family have remained focused on the idea that “you may have diabetes, but diabetes does not have you.”
It has not been easy. According to his father, Tim, a US Navy Veteran, the first year after diagnosis was a difficult one for Noah and the family. A child who loved sports, Noah’s activities became limited by the need to constantly monitor his blood sugar levels. Participation in many of his favorite sports was curtailed because they conflicted with his scheduled mealtimes or insulin shots. Sleepovers and parties were too difficult to manage. Noah didn’t go out much anymore and he didn’t talk about his condition to anyone but his family.
Noah’s diagnosis was also a life changing experience for his family. His parents became nurses, dietitians and watchdogs – injecting insulin, measuring, weighing and monitoring every bite of food. They were on guard every minute for further threats to Noah’s health. “All the kids were changed,” recalls Noah’s father. “They went from having a big brother in the house to feeling like they had to watch over him, protect him, and keep him from danger.”
A turning point came when Noah was seven. An educational program on diabetes was given at his school. Because of that program, Noah got the urge to get out and talk about his diabetes and raise diabetes awareness. He decided he wanted to help anyone and everyone learn about the condition, and while he understood that he could not do anything to prevent the type 1 diabetes that he has, he believed he could help people prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by asking them to lead a more active lifestyle. Noah’s voice – and underlying determination to raise awareness for diabetes – quickly developed into “The Diabetes Dude”
Then, just before his eighth birthday, Noah started with an Omnipod insulin management system. This new generation of tubeless insulin pump allowed Noah to resume his activities: playing soccer, baseball, biking, and swimming and become just being an active kid once again.
Noah’s insulin pump also had a beneficial effect on his parents. “We actually had a date night a few months after he started on the pump, said his father. “It had been over a year since we were comfortable enough to go out. Soon we were all able to start going to events again together, as a family.”
The Flamingo Flock takes off
Soon after his diagnosis, Noah began putting a penny in a jar each time he checked his blood sugar or had an injection, then donated the entire 22.2 pounds of change to Children’s Hospital of Boston, where his diabetes was first diagnosed. He decided after seeing the impact that the big container of change had on people who didn’t know about diabetes, that he wanted to do more to educate people on his disease. The Flamingo Flock began as one of Noah’s fundraising ideas for the American Diabetes Association. In 2010, Noah came up with the idea of a using a flock of flamingos for a fundraising campaign. Each flamingo would be blue – because blue is the color of Diabetes Awareness, and each flamingo would have a name starting with “D” for diabetes, like Doug, Darla, Dennis and Derby. Each bird would wear a tag with a letter explaining Noah’s fundraising goals. The flamingos, from one to a dozen or more, would be secretly placed on the lawn of a home or office nominated by a friend or family member for “flocking.”
Soon the flocking idea took flight, when people saw the blue flamingos, they became curious about the young boy with diabetes. The flamingos gave Noah the opportunity to talk to more and more folks about diabetes and how they could make lifestyle changes, not only to better manage their type 1 diabetes, but also to prevent developing type 2.
In April, 2010, Noah visited Insulet Corporation, makers of the OmniPod. After positioning his flock in front of the building, Noah met with the CEO, Mr. DeSisto, and gave a presentation to the entire company. “The employees of Insulet all made him feel so welcome,” said his father. “Noah was thrilled that they took time out of their busy day to have a little fun with him.”
The Brokmeiers found that people enjoyed the blue birds so much, they started taking photographs of themselves with the flamingos. Noah began posting pictures of the flamingos’ adventures on his website. As the reach of the flock grew, he added a Google map tracking their locations. The Flamingo Flock had gone national.
Now, Noah and his flamingos are “flocking” celebrities. Bret Michaels, rock star and Celebrity Apprentice had a visit from Noah and his sister, Dana, on Cape Cod this summer. After the show, they had a backstage visit with Bret, presenting him with Darwin, the diabetes flamingo. The children also gave the star a set of limited edition blue flamingo “SillyBandz” for his daughters, so that they could join in the campaign to raise awareness of diabetes. Darwin is now officially on tour with Bret Michaels’ Roses and Thorns World Tour.
Working for Awareness and a Cure
Noah’s website has also become a place for other children with type 1 diabetes and their parents to tell their stories, as “Friends of the Diabetes Dude.” One of them is Morgan, who Noah visited a few months ago when she had just returned home from the hospital, after having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Noah’s visit was comforting not only to Morgan, but to her parents. “Noah, The Diabetes Dude, was the first person to visit Morgan at home after the hospital,” said Morgan’s mom. “He answered all her questions and made her feel like she could have diabetes and be a kid too. Because he’s a boy, and therefore has cooties, she can’t come out and say how special he is to her, but we know.”
“As a parent, you think that you know everything about your child”, said Noah’s dad. “But when someone diagnoses a disease you have no control over, you question yourself, and you question everything.” The Brokmeiers believe that hearing Noah’s story will give hope to parents facing the challenge of type 1 diabetes in their child.
Looking forward, Noah’s goals do not stop at building awareness. His most deeply held goal is to raise money to help find a cure for the type 1 diabetes he is living with. Noah is from a military family and some day he would like to serve. That will only be possible if a cure is found for his diabetes. “When Noah blows out a birthday candle, passes a wishing well, or sees a falling star,” his father recounts, “his wish is always the same – to find a cure for diabetes.” In that wish, Noah is not alone.
Noah’s dream is to get at least one flamingo in every state and thanks to his campaign – there are flamingos flocked in 30 states. To help Noah reach his goal – log onto the website (www.thediabetesdude.com) and request a flamingo. Then go out and take a photo with your flamingo and send it back to Noah for posting on the site. Have fun with your photo – your flamingo at the family BBQ? Or at poolside? Getting into the family car? Walking the dog?
This young boy – “THE Diabetes Dude” with the Flamingo Flock campaign, – is well on his way to doing something big for diabetes awareness.
Diabetes Dude Update
The Diabetes Dude and over 50 of his friends flocked The Today Show in New York City. They got to speak with Ann Curry and weather anchor Stephanie Abrams who was filling in for Al Roker. In addition, they met and shook hands with recently crowned Miss Universe Ximena Navarrete! The Flockers drove throughout the night from Taunton, Mass. making it to the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center at 5:00 AM where they were one of the first in line to get a coveted spot. “After flocking the Today Show we did a Times Square Flocking at the iconic Toys-R-Us and The Kodak Billboard. Flocking New York City was awesome and we were able to accomplish this in only six hours,” exclaimed Noah.