Taunton 11-year-old tackles diabetes misconceptions
TAUNTON — At 11 years old, Noah Brokmeier continues to tackle the misconceptions surrounding diabetes while spreading awareness about the metabolic disease in hope for a cure.
‘‘The more people who know about diabetes, the sooner we can find a cure for it,’’ said the bespectacled Taunton boy, sitting in front of his laptop. ‘‘What we are doing now is extending diabetes awareness to people that don’t have it, families that don’t know anything about diabetes.’’
Noah is the face behind The Diabetes Dude, a diabetes awareness project that is based online at www.thediabetesdude.com, with an exotic blue bird as its mascot. As part of the effort, Noah has organized a group of about 50 ‘‘ambassadors,’’ or correspondents, who help correct misconceptions about diabetes, spread information about the differences between the types of diabetes, and talk about treatment for diabetes.
Noah was recognized for his work recently, receiving a $1,000 Kohl’s Cares Scholarship. In May, he was awarded a grant from the Do Something Awards through www.dosomething.org.
‘‘I feel honored that I've won a scholarship from anywhere, pretty much,’’ Noah said. ‘‘It’s not very often an 11-year-old is going to win a scholarship.’’
For more than three years, Noah has worked to advance The Diabetes Dude. It all started when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2007, after months of symptoms, including chest pains and fatigue.
Since starting The Diabetes Dude, Noah has had about 130,000 viewers at his website, gone on tours of the country talking to people about diabetes, and spearheaded several fund-raising and awareness campaigns.
Noah said his initial reasons for becoming involved with spreading awareness were comments made by his schoolmates in Berkley, where he lived before moving to Taunton about a year before the diagnosis.
‘‘They always have questions like, ‘Don’t you have to be fat to have diabetes?’ or things like ‘My grandma has diabetes,’ ’’ said Noah, noting that his type of diabetes has nothing to do with his age, weight, or what he was eating. ‘‘There are a lot of misconceptions.’’
Stacy Brokmeier, his mother, said her son was ‘‘getting a lot of comments about it’’ but it took him a about a year and a half to decide to spread the word. Noah said one of his nurses organized a presentation at his school to tell his classmates about diabetes, and a speaker for the presentation referred to him as ‘‘the diabetes dude.’’ The name stuck.
When he created The Diabetes Dude, Noah devised a way of drawing attention to diabetes. Plastic lawn flamingos. Blue ones.
‘‘Well, the international color of diabetes awareness is blue,’’ Noah said. ‘‘You usually see pink flamingos. Imagine having a whole bunch of pink flamingos on your lawn and seeing one blue flamingo in the middle. It gets people asking. ‘What is that blue flamingo doing on your lawn?’ That’s what we want. We want people asking questions about diabetes and about the flamingos.’’
In the early days of the Diabetes Dude, Noah and his parents — who have helped him with founding and maintaining the website — brought blue, plastic flamingos door-to-door in Berkley and Taunton. That was before they started mailing them throughout the country upon request, distributing more than 900 in total.
Recently, however, they switched to blue flamingo stuffed animals because they are easier to obtain and mail.
Noah said he is most proud of his network of Diabetes Dude ambassadors, who keep in touch with him online.
His father, Tim, said his son didn’t want the project to be all about himself.
‘‘He is the Diabetes Dude and will forever be the Diabetes Dude, but he wanted to take the emphasis off of him and give it to the community itself and say, ‘This is what diabetes is,’’’ he said. ‘‘That is what spawned the ambassadors throughout the USA. He said, ‘I don’t want to be the hero, I just want to be the kid, the Diabetes Dude.’’’
Noah has Diabetes Dude ambassadors as far as Singapore, Australia, and Canada, Stacy Brokmeier said.
Last summer, Noah went on a tour across the country at diabetes-related events and diabetes camps, using an RV supplied by OmniPod, which produces his insulin pump, used to inject insulin that his pancreas cannot produce to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
Noah said he gets requests to appear at diabetes-related events all the time, although he can’t make each one. The events allow the whole family to get involved, including his sister Dana who sometimes dresses up in a blue flamingo costume and dances around to entertain kids.
Noah is now spreading his reach using Facebook and Twitter to update followers on his latest work as The Diabetes Dude.
‘‘We are working toward helping newer families with kids who are newly diagnosed,’’ Tim Brokmeier said. ‘‘One of biggest things we have found is that when the kids are first diagnosed the families are kind of in a small little bubble. It’s almost like the bubble of diabetes. You don’t know who else is out there. We want to break that bubble and have people come together and understand this.’’