Seven years ago doctors diagnosed lifelong Wilton resident Kim Witty with diabetes while she was pregnant with her son, Ryan.
Ryan grew up around insulin shots and glucose meters, watching his mother use them routinely. During last month’s , while the electricity fizzled out all over Wilton, Ryan became illuminated with an idea.
Turning to his mother, he said “’It’s very painful to watch you give yourself shots every day,’” said Kim. “He wanted something to counteract the sharp needles,” she said.
Ryan then wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and Congressman Jim Himes with a grandiose idea for a new, nation-wide fundraising idea based in Washington, D.C. for diabetes research. Shortly thereafter, he received an email back from Himes’ office informing him of a Junior Diabetes Research Foundation meeting set to occur on Feb 13. at , which the Conn. congressman would be hosting. Excited, Ryan begged his parents to bring him.
It was during that meeting, when Ryan watched other kids—some his own age, some younger, some older—tell their stories to Himes (Himes was there to hear the public and then lobby for diabetes research support in Congress). Realizing other kids had to prick themselves numerous times a day , the young activist became saddened, but quickly turned that energy into motivation.
Wanting to help palliate their pain, Ryan focused his idea for fund raising: teddy bears strapped with backpacks or accessorized with small purses used for holding insulin shots and diabetes-care devices, to be given to newly-diagnosed diabetic children. He nicknamed his inchoate organization The Diabetic Kids Foundation.
For Ryan, this would give kids a stuffed cuddle buddy, and also allow kids to have a more pleasing way to carry their diabetic kit. Instead of the regular, drab black cases, the backpacks would be canvas-colored, allowing for customization with markers and paint. The purses would accompany a child who prefers a more feminine accessory for the bear. Ryan drew a card for the bears as well, one with two hearts for eyes on a sun. The Wittys’ friend, a Wilton resident with graphic design experience, Mac Johnson, is helping to produce the cards, Kim said.
But, where to start?
The Wittys had no plans to start a charity, so the family—well, mostly just Ryan, who spearheads the operation—was going in cold. Ryan’s father, Jason, contacted the Child Life Department at Yale Hospital, a logical choice given that kids diagnosed with diabetes are immediately whisked away there for observation. Jason set up a meeting with the dept.’s manager, Ellen Good, for Ryan.
Two weeks ago, Ryan showed up at Good’s office, clad in his church blazer, a tie, dress shoes, and a suitcase (which he found in his family’s storage room).
“This eight-year-old showed up in a suit…and just blew me away,” said Good.
In a somber seriousness that was dichotomous to his usual “rough and tumble” self, as his mother described him, Ryan carefully presented his cause to Good, opened his briefcase and pulled out a couple of teddy bears. When Good spoke, he took notes on a notepad. His parents hardly interjected.
“I don’t think we said more than two words. It was all Ryan,” said Kim. “We were really taken by how passionate he was.”
“It’s too bad he’s eight. He should be running for president someday. And he’s got a big heart, too,” said Good.
“It’s all been Ryan, ten-thousand percent,” said Kim. “With all his heart.”
Initial fundraising for to help Yale Children’s Hospital would be used for parking vouchers and cafeteria coupons, said Kim. The parking garage is located off of Yale property and costs money to park within; combined with cafeteria prices—not to mention other medical costs—a trip to the hospital can be pricey, especially for struggling families. Since children need to be moved almost immediately to Yale Children’s Hospital from all over the state, parents have no time to plan for a hospital visit which lasts about three days.
Right now, the Diabetic Kids Foundation is just starting up and is looking for support. Ryan’s dreams are big, but everything has to start small: Kim says Ryan wants to set up a cookie stand outside of the or near sporting events at , for example. It doesn’t hurt that the Wittys know Wilton well: Kim and Jason grew up in nearby homes—Kim on Blueberry Drive, and Jason down the road on Mayflower Drive—and met while taking the bus to elementary school. They grew up, fell in love, and moved out of Wilton to attend a junior college together; after graduate school, Kim and Jason moved back to Wilton when Kim was pregnant with her firstborn daughter, who is now a freshman at .
And a word of warning:
"Don't mess with Ryan when he has a briefcase," laughed Good.
Anyone interested in contacting Kim or Jason can email them at DiabeticKidsFoundation@gmail.com or call their home at 203-762-0644.