Christopher Thomas, 28, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes just a year and a half ago. He lost his job, moved to New York City, and started partying hard. Too hard. His friends began calling him "the diabetic rockstar" (sing along here). You won't believe what he's done with that moniker since.
What started out as a personal MySpace page is now an upstart online community for rebel diabetics called — you guessed it! — Diabetic Rockstar. It's governed by a board of ten members from around the country, united in their mission to shake up the diabetes establishment.
Through their new non-profit arm Fight-IT.org, they are raising money via local concerts and social events that goes directly to diabetics in need. They're also channeling donated supplies out to people who can't afford them. "Research is great, but we wanted to help people right away... There are some major flaws in the big diabetes organizations, health insurance, and charities out there," Christopher says.
His outspoken views have already ruffled some feathers. But at the same time, the work he is doing is mobilizing people to come forward and say "I'm proud to be diabetic."
Here's Christopher Thomas live on DiabetesMine -
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On what it means to live the "diabetic rockstar life":
"Our motto is LIVE LIFE LIKE A ROCKSTAR. They do it right — they live life for now, and they don't make excuses, because you never know when your time will come. If you feel that diabetes is holding you back, fight back. Go out and do what you want to do with your life."
"We have a Canadian donor who's already given us over $3000, but mostly we're raising money through the events. We have a Guitar Hero tournament coming up in Arizona, and our first cruise coming up in Florida next year. We've also hosted two DJ events and three concerts with local bands in other states.
Through Fight-It.org we're building our own software so people can purchase their own event packages. You put up the money upfront, and we ship out merchandise and PR materials, etc. You come up with venue, the entertainment, and the people. We guarantee you'll get your money back. So if you put up $500, and only raise $400, we'll reimburse you the difference, because we realize the events are also promotion for our community and our cause.
The mojo is everything that comes with going to a concert — freedom, and that creativity, no rules — you make your own rules."
On black & hot pink D-gear:
"The second major source of money is our merchandise. We have T-shirts, sweatshirts, and the bracelets, which have absolutely taken off. We've been selling out on them. They're black with hot pink writing, but now we're ordering a new batch of hot pink with black letters. And Diabetic Rockstar guitar picks! We're ordering those for the Guitar Hero tournament."
On how it all began:
"I was diagnosed in May of 2007, while living in Detroit. Pretty much every conceivable negative thing happened to me, and I didn't have health insurance. I was just out of college and had lost my contracting job because I needed so much time off. I didn't understand what was happening. Then I got a restaurant job, and on the 2nd day on the floor, I had a low and had no idea how to handle it.
Basically I hit rock bottom, packed my car and ended up moving to New York in two days with no plan, no job, not knowing anybody, and only two months since my diagnosis. I was still trying to find out what it meant to be 'the diabetic.' Everything I read seem liked a scare tactic.
People started calling me the Diabetic Rockstar because I was drinking out of control. So I bought the domain, and created a little blog. Through my MySpace page, I developed this 'anarchist mindset' that it was the diabetes and all the organizations versus me. People started coming forward and joining. This inspired me to come up with the whole Fight-It charity idea. Although I've mellowed a little. Being against everything isn't particularly productive or mature."
On other Ning-based online communities for diabetics:
"I'm also a member of TuDiabetes, and I know about his charitable foundation. Manny (Hernandez, Founder) and I support each other, but essentially our communities have distinct identities and purposes — a different demographic. His is more traditional, where people are talking and discussing. Ours is more disruptive. We've publicly criticized some organizations and things they have done. We're still getting backlash for some of that."
On contest giveaways he finds unethical:
"Just recently, we came out against web sites that offer test strips as contest prizes. Our board agreed unanimously that it's wrong to put these vital diabetes supplies up as prizes to benefit your own agenda.
They're needed by a lot of people who are suffering, really struggling, cutting corners... and we don't think it's right that people and organizations who SAY they're about helping the community are dangling them as prizes — maybe awarding them to someone who already has insurance — when so many people who really need them are not getting them. For example, I just sent out $500 worth of aid to a 22-year-old girl who can't afford her diabetes supplies. We also now partner with a pharmacy in Canada to purchase insulin for people who need it and have it shipped out to them directly. It's completely legal, because in Canada, insulin does not require a prescription — and we get it almost at wholesale cost.
Just the fact that we can get people TALKING about how people need these supplies so desperately was a win for us. We don't apologize for the stances we take; we want to force change."
On how to get a FREE glucose meter:
"We want to help people get the supplies they need. We actually have $10,000 worth of free meters donated by American Diabetes Wholesale. A truck literally drove up to my apartment and dumped them off.
If you need one, email me with headline 'I want a meter' and include your mailing address, and I will ship it out within three weeks. You don't need to join the website or newsletter to get it. Some of the meters are older models, of course. We're working to be able to offer test strips at discount soon."
On where to donate your own unused supplies:
"If people have unused diabetes supplies, they can send them to us at:
PO Box 20503
New York, NY 10021
This includes meters, and strips, etc., but does NOT include prescription medications. Syringes and lancets are kind of a gray area, but we can probably take them if they're sealed in the original packaging.
When people submit an application for aid, we try to match their need the stuff we have donated."
On adopting your own diabetic in need:
"We've started a Mentorship Program where people can sign up to work with someone who's newly diagnosed, who has or is at risk for developing gestational diabetes, or who's suffering from complications. You support them via phone and email. We take the program pretty seriously.
We also bought the domain "AdoptADiabetic." The program is going to be like the "Make a Wish Foundation," where you can adopt a family or individual and help them get on their feet. We're planning to do it initially over the holiday season, but to make it more permanent later.
So we have this online community and the charitable side. Long-term, the charity will make a much larger difference in people's lives. Our website is the Revolution. We're out to take care of the individuals with diabetes."
Christopher Thomas tells me that he works ca. 50 hours/week in a NYC bar/restaurant. He does his community and online activities in the off-hours. His group is also compiling a book of humorous stories called "Diabetes Is a Funny Word." Click HERE for information if you're interested in contributing an essay.