Each year, 186,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and many are the only ones in their family with the disease.
That number caught the attention of Hannah Chung, Aaron Horowitz, and two of their classmates as they were brainstorming ideas for Design for America while students at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering.
In those sessions-part of Design for America’s national network of student teams focused on improving the world through innovation-they originally imagined something to help people better manage their diabetes. But by zeroing in on improving care for children, they were ultimately inspired to create Jerry the Bear. Part toy, part healthcare tool, Jerry is an interactive stuffed bear designed to help children with type 1 diabetes not only learn more about their disease, but also feel less alone in the process.
Like the children he teaches, Jerry also has diabetes, so he can help those children better adapt to the lifestyle changes required by the disease, such as restricted foods, regular blood glucose monitoring, and insulin injections.
“Children take care of Jerry in the same way they take care of themselves,” said Horowitz.
Because having Jerry helps kids with type 1 feel more comfortable about their diagnosis, he eases the transition, and by caring for Jerry-monitoring his diet, measuring his blood glucose levels, and administering insulin shots-kids can learn how to treat their diabetes on their own, rather than letting their parents take total control.
“He enables children to be really proactive with their own diabetes care,” Horowitz said. “He promotes their interest in learning more about their disease, and to take a more active role in their care.”
The team began developing the Jerry prototype in 2009, and has since won numerous monetary awards, which allowed company CEOs and co-founders Chung and Horowitz, along with their vice president of engineering, Adam Berkowitz, to generate the first round of Jerry the Bear stuffed toys for market last Christmas.
Aimed at those ages 3 to 7, Jerry prepares children for the physical changes they might experience because of their diabetes, making him an ideal companion to teach the ins and outs of the disease. Kids check his blood glucose levels by touching his paw, and provide insulin doses by touching the accompanying insulin pen to six different injection sites.
Because he is an educational tool, Jerry allows kids to practice their treatment plan on him first, so they themselves won’t experience the negative consequences of making a mistake.
Jerry is designed with interactive games and activities that teach kids about how the foods they eat and activities they participate in can impact their blood sugar levels. When Jerry is fed, by swiping one of 10 food cards across his mouth, he must then receive insulin, a process the connects the two acts in a way that kids can understand more clearly.
“What something like Jerry does is help them lean the complete picture,” said Chung. “Jerry’s a visual, hands-on approach to learning,” making the concept of managing diabetes clearer and easier to understand.
Jerry communicates by telling his owners how he feels, and thanks them for the care they provide. He is also interactive, and as kids perform additional activities with Jerry, they unlock a series of stories that help explain how activities, including sports, can impact blood sugar levels.
Essentially, Jerry helps “guide children up the ladder,” Horowitz said, teaching them about diet and insulin management, all while providing an educational platform that will include them to learn more about their disease, and to take a more active role in their own healthcare-setting them on the right track for better health throughout their childhood and beyond.
Jerry is also a great way to help family members, friends and classmates better understand type 1 diabetes, thanks to his totally approachable, informative style.
“Some of the parents say Jerry is like an additional family member,” said Chung.
Since the initial run of 350 bears, Jerry’s creators have been busy updating Jerry and making him more user-friendly based on feedback from customers. They are also working with insurance providers to make Jerry, currently priced at $249, more affordable for every family.
“We want everyone to experience better health care,” said Horowitz. “Our vision is to get Jerry the Bear into every child’s hands.”
The second run is expected to be available in April, and the company is taking orders now.
For more information, visit www.jerrythebear.com.