Have you met Jerry the Bear with Diabetes?
He's the cute, cuddly stuffed animal who lives with type 1 himself, and he's made incredible strides in the nine years since he was first dreamed up by a group of creative college students; Jerry the Bear has evolved into a beloved figure in our Diabetes Community who's making his way into hundreds of homes and clinics around the world.
Did you know that Jerry visited the White House and was in the same room as a sitting president? He's gone on a backpacking adventure through New Zealand, traveled to myriad diabetes conferences, hosts his own fun mobile app, and is now participating in a clinical pilot program to help teach kids and families about living with T1D.
What's also huge is that Jerry's price-tag has dropped drastically since he first came on the scene -- making him more affordable than ever for those who want to welcome him into their T1D worlds!
Meet Jerry, Our Fuzzy Diabetes 'Design Child'
Jerry's story began about a decade ago, but was first launched as a product in 2013. He's gone through a total of 29 different design iterations to get to the "Jerry 2.0" model available now. Of course by taking care of Jerry's diabetes, children gain hands-on practice with counting carbs, monitoring Jerry's blood sugar, and dosing Jerry with mock insulin.
For those not familiar with him, here's a rundown of what Jerry offers:
- Jerry is 15″ tall and weighs in at only 10 oz.
- He's best suited for kids ages 4+
- Early models once had Jerry sporting a display screen on his tummy, but that's been eliminated and now his belly is much more natural-looking. He has 8 little patches on his lower belly, legs, arms and fingers to show kids where the best injection, infusion set, and fingerstick sites are
- Jerry's functionality is centered around his mobile app, which is free for iOS and Android. So aside from being a cuddly stuffed toy, he's tech-based as far as diabetes management is concerned
- Jerry's virtual D-tools on the app include: glucometer, pump or pen, a kitchen menu, and other educational and interactive virtual diabetes materials
- Want to poke his finger? Use the app to snap a pic of the particular site, and it then shows a glucometer countdown before displaying the result. Parents can program different ranges for Lows, Highs, in-range targets. Same goes for giving him insulin: the Jerry app shows a pump or pen that gives little dots of insulin based on whatever the BG reading is, or the carb count of the food he's being fed
- His app contains 21 different interactive stories and tools that let kids interact with Jerry and go on adventures with him, learning about their diabetes management while having fun
Where did Jerry come from? We're glad you asked! It all started with a core group of 10 students at Northwestern University who had signed up for an interdisciplinary group called Design for America that aimed to focus on projects with a social impact. They entered our first-ever DiabetesMine Design Challenge in 2009 and came away with top honors in the Most Creative Design category. That win brought them $5,000 in prize money, and the impetus to move forward and seek further support for their idea.
Part of the group moved to Rhode Island, and after graduation eventually founded the startup Sproutel there, which they refer to as a "patient-centered workshop." The team has grown over time under the direction of co-founders Aaron Horowitz who serves as CEO, and Hannah Chung who is Chief Creative Officer.
They like to refer to themselves as Jerry's Family, and now there are officially eight on board as part of the family.
"It's an incredible and humbling feeling to see something that began as a submission to a competition on DiabetesMine grow into a thriving community of users all around the globe," Horowitz says. "We developed Jerry to provide comfort to children with type 1 and it makes us both overjoyed to see users share photos with Jerry and stories of impact!"
We're extremely proud to know that our DiabetesMine open innovation competition essentially gave birth to Jerry, and we've been thrilled to follow his journey, sharing him in giveaways and chronicling his adventures -- including when he visited the White House in 2014 for an innovation science fair gathering of entrepreneurs and designers. Very cool!
To date, from the very first Jerrys to the most newest model released in early 2017, more than 1,000 bears have gone out to people across the world. Roughly 500 of those Jerrys were sent out before the latest version launched last year, the Sproutel team tells us.
Most notably, Jerry is much far more affordable these days compared to just a few short years ago when he cost $299. Now, thanks to a new partnership, Jerry costs just $55 here in the US so is making his way into many more homes.
Which brings us to Jerry's latest chapter, in which he becomes part of the powerhouse advocacy group Beyond Type 1...
Jerry the Bear Joins Beyond Type 1
In February 2017, Beyond Type 1 took on Jerry as one of their core programs.
D-Mom and BT1 co-founder Sarah Lucas tells us they've been shipping bears all over the world, and outside the US, D-families in Australia, Brazil and the UK seem to have a special fondness for him.
Years back (when Jerry cost quite a bit more), Sproutel ran a helpful "Buy a Bear, Give a Bear" program encouraging families who could afford it to not only buy a bear for themselves, but also spend a little extra money to donate one to a family that could not afford him. That campaign has now been replaced by Beyond Type 1's "Give a Bear" -- with the same concept, in which customers can sponsor a bear with a donation. Beyond Type 1 tells us that more than 629 families have been gifted bears through this program to date (half in the USA and half internationally), and in the first half of 2018 the number of applications for a sponsored bear has spiked significantly.
We're also told Jerry is expanding his reach in clinical settings. He's now part of clinical pilot programs at Stanford University, University of California - San Francisco (UCSF), University of North Carolina (UNC), Texas Children's Hospital, and Seattle Children's.
"We are working with the staff at these locations where Jerry has been/in process to become a core part of the teaching program in the clinics," Lucas says. "Working with the team at UNC, we've developed guides for educators bringing Jerry into their clinic, and also supplemental materials/activity booklet for those families that don't want their children on cell phones. We are funding or partially funding all the bears at these locations during this pilot program, with the goal being that every newly diagnosed child receives one."
Jerry is also being distributed in New Zealand to all newly diagnosed children through nationwide pediatric wards through Beyond Type 1's partnership with Diabetes New Zealand.
As of now, Beyond Type 1 is the only channel to purchase a bear if you live in the US and other countries except for Canada. Sproutel tells us they're working with a Canadian distribution partner, Diabetes Express, for customers in that country.
Jerry is Changing Lives
It's very cool to see Jerry making such an impact! (to say the least)
We also enjoyed seeing a life-sized version of Jerry appearing at some diabetes events through the years, including the annual summer Friends For Life conference hosted in Orlando by Children With Diabetes. In Fall 2017, we also got a kick out of seeing Jerry take a tour through New Zealand with T1 adventure-enthusiast Emily Wilson (see her story on that trek here)., and he's also made his way to Argentina where he's attended T1 D-camps and sleepovers. Fun times for Jerry, worldwilde!
Naturally, families love Jerry!
Here are a just a few of the many testimonials we've heard from around the community:
Hawaii D-Mom Luana Hickman, whose daughter Tani was diagnosed in 2014:
"Jerry has made a tremendous difference in our family. Tani was thrilled to open the box at Christmas. Her first words after we explained that Jerry was also type 1 were, 'Finally, I have got a baby that is just like me.' She knows that it is her job to teach Jerry everything that he needs to know about being a type 1 diabetic and to help him keep tabs on his sugars. Getting her to stop what she is doing and test her sugar or to take insulin was often a tearful struggle. But now, it’s a breeze as she is happy to attend to Jerry while we attend to her. She knows that everything she eats, Jerry also eats. She is becoming more conscious of what goes into her body and often says, 'I want more ice cream but I am not going to ask for any because I don't want to make Jerry feel sick!'"
California D-Mom Damaris, whose daughter Amaya was diagnosed in January 2017:
“Jerry the Bear helps my child so she can learn more about her diagnosis with T1D, with getting used to her 'pokies' and learning about all the different areas she can inject insulin. Amaya is loving Jerry. She checks his sugar every day. She literally won’t go anywhere without him, and even sleeps with him.”
We couldn't be more excited and proud of how far Jerry has come through the years. And we can't wait to see where this friendly D-spirit animal goes next.