August 3, 2017
Katherine Beckwith-Fickas, M.D., MPH, is a pediatric endocrinologist at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. She regularly witnesses firsthand how families’ lives are turned upside down when their child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. “One of the most important things I do is try to help normalize the experience for them,” she says. “I want my patients to know that they are still regular kids even if they have diabetes. They can eat ice cream and birthday cake, play sports, and be whatever they want when they grow up; we just need to manage diabetes along the way.”
About a year ago, Dr. Beckwith-Fickas learned about something that she knew would make a big difference in helping her diabetes patients cope with their diagnoses. The American Girl company, which makes beautiful, lifelike dolls, came out with a doll-size diabetes care kit. The kit contains tools that many children with diabetes have in their own, full-size diabetes care kits, such as:
- A blood sugar monitor
- An insulin pump
- An insulin pen
- Glucose tablets
- A log book for recording blood glucose levels
- A medical bracelet
- A special case for the supplies, plus an ID card
“The moment I saw it, I knew I needed it in my practice,” Dr. Beckwith-Fickas says.
A LIGHT DURING A DARK TIME
Dr. Beckwith-Fickas used grant money to purchase 30 of the diabetes care kits for dolls. She also posted in a private physician moms Facebook group that she was looking for gently used American Girl dolls or funds that she could use to purchase new ones. She also reached out to family and friends for donations. “I was blown away by the response,” Dr. Beckwith-Fickas says. “Women from all over the country sent dolls in beautiful condition.” Soon, she started handing out dolls to girls who were newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Each girl receives an American Girl doll, which has its own mini diabetes care kit, along with an additional outfit. Six-year-old Olivia Covino is one of those girls. She received a doll and a kit when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May 2016. “When Olivia was diagnosed, it was a total shock,” her mom, Melissa, says. “It was a big change for our entire family. She went from being a normal healthy kid to a kid who depends on insulin. We had to learn how to do everything from testing her blood sugar levels to injecting insulin.”
When Olivia’s family first got the diagnosis, Olivia spent several days at Jersey Shore to help get her blood sugar under control. “A couple of days into our stay, Dr. Beckwith-Fickas gave her the doll,” Melissa recalls. “Olivia loves playing with dolls and to see this one that had a kit just like her really made an impact. It helped Olivia better understand what was happening. She could give the insulin to her doll just like she had to receive it.”
MORE THAN A DOLL
To date, Dr. Beckwith-Fickas has given out about 20 dolls and kits. American Girl recently released a boy doll, which Dr. Beckwith-Fickas hopes to give out to newly diagnosed boys along with the doll-size diabetes care kits.
“It has been such a wonderful, feel-good project,” Dr. Beckwith-Fickas says. “Parents and kids often cry when they receive them. It helps them feel understood and more normal. One child wanted an American Girl doll for years and now, not only does she have one, but it has diabetes just like her.”
More than a year since her diagnosis, Olivia is doing well managing her diabetes and still enjoys playing with her American Girl doll. “This project is a testament to the kind of physician that Dr. Beckwith-Fickas is,” Melissa says. “She’s an amazing doctor. She builds a relationship with each of her patients so they’re not just numbers — they’re children with unique needs and interests. She goes above and beyond. As a parent, I couldn’t ask for more.”