You may have heard of the Betes Bros, a relatively new group of social media peeps who’ve been making a name for themselves in our Diabetes Online Community over the course of the past year.
It’s all the brainchild of longtime type 1 Chris Pickering in Oklahoma, who was diagnosed nearly 30 years ago as a young child and is one of several T1Ds in his family. He’s a stay-at-home dad of four who now works full-time as a diabetes advocate, building off his former career in marketing and sales.
What started off as a joke between D-peeps at work has grown into a bona fide non-profit organization aimed at raising awareness, building community and supporting good causes that benefit PWDs (people with diabetes). Here's the story behind the org... UPDATE: Unfortunately in early August 2018, Chris announced that due to lack of time and finances, he's officially shutting down The Betes Bros at the end of the year.
An Interview with Betes Bros Founder Chris Pickering
DM) Hi Chris, can you start by sharing your own diagnosis experience?
CP) When I was just 3 years old in 1988, I got extremely ill and like many others was diagnosed with cold/flu symptoms and sent home. After a few more days and getting to point I was unable to eat, my mom rushed me to the ER. With a staff unable to figure out what was going on, a doctor walks in and asks "has anyone checked him for diabetes?!"
A short time later, they came back with a diagnosis of Diabetes Mellitus Type 1. This occurred in late June 1988. I was literally released from the hospital right after getting stabilized, following my parents pleading because my birthday was around the corner – yes, this was two days before my 4th birthday. A life-changer, but not a shock in my family.
You have lots of type 1 in your family?
Yes, I was the fifth diagnosis in my family that I know of.
One cousin Lisa passed away from DKA after wanting to be 'normal' at a birthday party and eating cake and ice cream. This was before I was born. That was in the 70’s without the insulins and monitoring we have today. My uncles Mike, Darrel, and Terry Wayne were all diagnosed as well. Mike passed away due to complications in the same year I was diagnosed. Darrel was one of the earlier recipients of a kidney and pancreas transplant. He went on another few years before his body gave out from complications. Terry Wayne and I are the last in our family living with type 1. He’s going on well over 40 years with it, but like the others, he's suffering from complications and hypoglycemic unawareness. As of now I am the final diagnosis within my family and hope every single day I will remain the last.
How much are your own four kids aware of the diabetes?
My family is the equivalent of a day at the zoo, but without animals in cages. My wife Madelyn and I have four kids in the house all under the age of 10: Jet Dare is 8, Jett Lynn is 7, Jagger Lee is 7, and Lilly Rose is 2. Who says a type 1 can’t have two Jets? ;)
Jet Dare or J.D. is our son from a prior relationship I had, and Jett and Jagger are our twin sons from Madelyn’s previous marriage. Lilly is our only one together and the only girl of the four. Each of them is very aware of my diabetes. They will ask what (BG level) I’m reading at. They have learned that if I’m high, I’m grumpy and to not ask for anything. If I’m hovering around 100 it’s a good day and we’ll have fun. If I'm going low that might be their favorite, because they know this means treats and they might take a little advantage of it at times.
So who are the Betes Bros?
There are three of us. There’s me, the founder who’s considered the “veteran” of the diabetes world in our group. The two others are Nate Bright and Stephen Barton, who were a huge help in the early stages.
At first, it was Stephen and I who worked together at a car dealership and won monthly awards simultaneously. He won Service Person of the Month, and I won Salesperson of the Month. They called us "the diabetes brothers," and there was this Wilford Brimley “Dia-beetus” commercial meme making the rounds, so we started joking about being the “Beetus Bros.” We lost contact for a little while after my leaving the dealership. Interestingly, the dealership had another T1D connection when the service managers son was also diagnosed.
Then came Nate, who in all his glory came from an introduction by my wife Madelyn, who one day came home and said, “You have to meet my friend Nate that I work with on movie sets" because she'd seen him using an insulin pen. He’s a skilled special effects and make up artist, especially dealing with horror films.
Nate I and texted back and forth and would chat on the phone on occasion. Finally, we met up at a burger place and talked for a couple hours, and have been friends ever since. The more we talked and hung out, the more that “Betes Bros” phrase resurfaced. So we set out to start our own Facebook page and just have fun with our type 1 together. It was a bit of a bro-mance, really.
Stephen saw this on social media and wanted to help out as well. And that made three of us.
So you started by just posting images?
Literally one day as a joke, Nate and I decided to create an Instagram and just show life with T1D. That was in April 2017, and in a matter of weeks, people began following and sending messages enjoying our posts. It was really during the Summer and Fall of last year, during Hurricane Harvey, that our first real call to action came about and helped us connect further in the community.
The Bros concept is truly a brotherhood. Despite differences in location, race, religion, etc. we all unite under a blue flag.
And later you registered as an actual non-profit organization?
Yes, the Betes Bros Foundation is a registered 501(c)3 and is the the umbrella organization for the Betes Bros, Betes Babes, and more to be added in the future. We are both local and national. As the foundation grows we are planning on having Bros and Babes in many major cities to help orchestrate and execute meet-ups and events to give the community more options of gathering together.
Wait, there's a female version called Betes Babes, too?
Yes, the Betes Babes are the amazing women who handle the side of life the bros have no clue about. Kourtney Harris runs that side of the foundation with help from Bridgette Mullins. Both are rockstars in putting out real and relatable content. Kourtney, who's also in Oklahoma, is in her '20s and was diagnosed in 1998. She just celebrated her 20-year diaversary, and Bridgette was diagnosed in 2016 and has made enormous strides in dealing with T1D by jumping into the community. She's the only one not out of this state, but is based in Virginia.
So that's your core team now?
Beyond us main “bros” and “babes," we are beginning to utilize great people from all over the world to help inspire others and get involved in our organization – including one person known as “Santa Ron,” who is a professional Santa Claus with type 2 who helps us out on occasion. With reach now on every continent except Antarctica, at this point we've had conversations with people from over 50 countries… Our team is ever growing!
There has yet to be a picture of everyone together, as varying schedules and locations make it tough.
What has the organization accomplished so far?
Since our humble beginnings a year ago in April 2017, we have had the opportunity to help with Hurricane Harvey and some of the other storms that hit the Gulf and Caribbean. We raised a total of around $30,000 in insulin, test strips, lancets, glucometers, glucose tabs, and other various diabetes supplies -- all donated by the community from 20 states and 8 different countries. We also were able to collect a great deal of clothes, shoes, kids wear, diapers, a couple cribs, toys, school supplies, toiletries, and many other necessary things to rebuild life with.
Since starting this effort, there have been around 20 individuals/families who didn’t have to stress about getting what they needed because the community stepped up. We now have connections with NBA, NFL, and USL teams that we are looking at ways to do more together for T1D.
What else do you have on tap?
Also on the drawing board is an idea we're referring to as the "Betes Bus," though there's no timeframe on it yet. After watching numerous non-profit organizations close offices because of overhead, we wanted to seek out another option to minimize cost. The solution was a mobile office. The original idea was creating a tiny house/office. After playing with design ideas and beginning to configure cost, that along with a truck to pull it was increasing cost. Digging further into research on minimalist business ideas, we came across whatbis known as a “skoolie” -- a bus converted into a home or business. There is already one business in OKC with the concept, and a small office would average $1200 per month, not including any other reoccurring monthly costs. Doing that for two years would mean we could have a mobile office and studio for any future video projects, and any hotel and flight costs would also be eliminated. We'd be driving so this would open up access to many people across the US, giving us the ability to organize meetups along the way. We believe this could be the future of eliminating a great deal of non-profit overhead and getting more involved in the community.
We hear you've also met with teachers and state officials on diabetes awareness initiatives?
Yes, meetings with schools have covered many different issues. With teachers, we have sat down to handle concerns in the classroom. Many teachers have not had the chance to deal with type 1 first-hand. Along with the parents, we help coach them on warning signs off blood sugars rising or dropping. We show them how to use CGMs if a student is on one; proper safety in treating low blood sugars; and working with faculty and policies in the schools to allow for treating lows in the classroom. We have had the privilege of speaking with the Department of Education and any school that needs help or has questions within Oklahoma has the ability to contact us.
Where do you see Betes Bros making the most difference?
One of the biggest issues is that so many people feel alone in T1D, from the person diagnosed to their family. We work with many newly diagnosed individuals and parents on a daily basis, walking through the questions and fears together, all while getting them connected with others. Another big part of what we strive for is insulin affordability and accessibility. We're looking at helping bring more and people together to raise awareness for this issue.
Tell us about the recent video you released (below), that included so many faces from the DOC?
After looking around for videos that were relatable with the Diabetes Online Community, there wasn’t one that stood out to me. There were great videos showcasing type 1s for organizations but not one for the community. It was a chance to bring the community together for a project and focus on T1D with all organizations involved, each named to show their commitment to the D-Community.
How are you approaching the issue of Pharma funding and support for your organization?
With so many people upset with pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and others involved in the insulin cost pipeline, it makes for a double-edged sword. Many people are calling it "blood money." But with the funds we could receive, we could do many great things and connect face-to-face with more of the community.
However, we know of those who’ve passed away (as a result of) not having insulin and all of those people who’ve been thrown into poverty due to medical costs. So we don’t feel there is enough justification for what we can do with pharma money to outweigh the community's concerns. We are active members of the DOC and just as we have a voice and platform, the individual community members have a voice through us. We would rather continue on a smaller scale and limited budget until finding other funding options.
Are there others in the diabetes non-profit space you look to as inspiration, or for guidance?
There are some great orgs, and we’ve had interaction with all of them. Growing up with ADA and JDRF, they will always have respect for being the front-runners. Beyond Type 1 with their innovative ideas and own social app for the T1D community is awesome, and others like T1international that's making waves around the world for trying to allow insulin access to everyone who needs it.
Then, we look to people like Chris Bright, founder of The Diabetes Football Community, who saw a need in a specific area and ran with it. Every organization has something to give from an educational or inspirational standpoint. Not to mention numerous businesses out there who give a portion of their profits back to the type 1 community or research.
Any words of wisdom you care to share with our readers?
In essence, we are all a bunch of people who connected online or in person and came to the conclusion that our life with diabetes sucked. We then set out on a mission to better our own lives with diabetes and better those around us in the process.
We’ll continue going as long as we can because for now we have limited overhead and have figured ways to do things on a minimal budget. We will continue to be active online and get to as many new areas as we can, as time allows. Without this community, we are nothing. That’s why our motto is: “Until there’s a cure, there’s community.”
Thanks, Chris! We're eager to see how the Betes Bros and Babes expand and grow their efforts.