JDRF is very aware of the amazing strength of the type 1 diabetes (T1D) community—and its commitment to improving the lives of everyone affected by this disease. It’s always great to see stories that highlight just how powerful this community really is. You may have heard that American Girl—the popular doll company—recently released a Diabetes Care Kit for their Truly Me™ dolls. But did you know that Matt Wahmhoff, the designer of this groundbreaking kit, also has T1D himself?
American Girl dolls reflect the reality of T1D
As of January 2016, everyone affected by T1D now has the option to purchase a Diabetes Care Kit for their American Girl dolls. The kit’s accessories include a blood sugar monitor and lancing device; an insulin pump and infusion set; an insulin pen; a medical bracelet; and glucose tablets. Think of it as a doll-sized version of all the tools necessary to manage this complex disease!
We spoke to Matt—a designer at American Girl —to get his take on how living with the disease informed his experience designing this important kit.
What did it mean to you to design the Diabetes Care Kit?
From a personal standpoint, this is likely one of the most meaningful designs I have ever worked on. The words “meaningful” and “toy” don’t always go together. So, it’s great to have an opportunity to be a part of a designing something like this for American Girl.
Did having T1D yourself influence your design process?
Definitely. When we are designing toys, we’re not always able to achieve every detail we want, but in this case there were important features that I knew had to be right. For example, for me, it was very important how the infusion set attached to the doll to mimic real life as much possible. We looked at many different adhesives and eventually found one that was strong enough to attach to the doll. The spring-loaded feature in the lancet device was another small detail that adds a realistic quality to the device.
Why do you think making this kit available is important?
The kit offers a unique and positive way for a child to deal with the difficulties of caring for his or her diabetes. Teaching their dolls how to care for the disease, like dealing with low and high blood sugar episodes, is a fantastic way to reinforce good everyday practices in diabetes management. And, this can help make girls (and boys!) stronger and more comfortable with their diabetes. It also offers a way for them to teach their friends what it’s like to live with T1D. When I was growing up, most of my friends had no clue what it was like to be diabetic. There just wasn’t a great way to get my friends involved in that part of my life. This kit can really change that now.
What would you like people to know about what it’s like to live with T1D?
People should know that diabetes is manageable and that you can live a very normal life with the disease. You can’t tell if someone has diabetes, which is good, but that can also make people forget that you even have it. Many things besides food can affect my blood sugar level. Everything from exercise, to having the flu, or even stress can raise or lower my blood sugar. So I have to think about what’s going on now—and what I’m going to be doing later—and then decide whether I need to eat, take insulin or both.
What would a world without T1D mean to you?
People with diabetes have a significantly higher risk for certain complications, such as blindness, heart issues, kidney damage and nerve damage. Thankfully, I have not had any of these complications, but they’re always in the back of my mind. So, a world without T1D would be truly amazing for so many people like me. Having to constantly watch my diet and count carbs may be beneficial from a health standpoint, but it sure would be nice to forget about it occasionally!
Girls with T1D across the country rallied behind Anja Busse’s petition to make diabetic accessories available for American Girl dolls. Little did they know that American Girl already had such a project in the works—or how happy they’d be with the results!