September 9, 1999
Coping on Two Continents
A new program pairs researchers from L.A. and Tel Aviv to combat diabetes
Since being diagnosed with diabetes in 1997, two developments have brought 14-year-old Cesar Chavira closer to leading a life like that of his Hollywood High peers: an insulin pump, which provides a continual dosage that lasts all day, and the Sponsorship for Adolescents with Diabetes, which has paired him up with a diabetic mentor.
The good news for other local diabetic teens is that now the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership -- an agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles -- will help Dr. Beverly Daley, creator of Sponsorship, extend her crusade. Co-sponsored by the Federation, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, the Bob Shapell School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University and the Ministry of Social Welfare of Tel Aviv, the Partnership's new exchange program provides Daley an avenue to consult with Israeli researchers, who already operate a mentorship program patterned after her brainchild.
"The reason the Jewish Federation selected the program to be part of the Partnership is because of its potential for building Jewish identity," says Daley. "There are many young adults who have become so assimilated that they're participation in Jewish life is marginal."
Ever since pursuing her doctorate at USC, Daley has led a tireless campaign to understand and combat diabetes.
"Diabetes is an insidious disease," says Daley. "It's a leading cause of death and disability here and in Israel, often leading to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, blindness."
Daley adds that teens are especially vulnerable to the disease's psychologically traumatic aspects, as they must undergo a complex daily routine of insulin shots, blood-sugar-level monitoring and special diet and exercise patterns.
In 1986, with Children's Hospital, Daley launched Sponsorship for Adolescents with Diabetes, using Alcoholics Anonymous and Big Brothers/Big Sisters as templates. Daley enlisted "young professionals with diabetes in their 20s or 30s ... to serve as role models and educate and inspire the teen-agers. What we're hoping to achieve with the kids is the self-esteem and the optimism that comes from realizing that diabetes does not stand in the way of their goals."
Three months ago, Daley paired Chavira with Andy Leisner, an advertising manager at Cycle World magazine.
"We get along very, very well," Chavira says of his mentor, whom he views as a big brother. "I don't have very many friends, so to have a friend like Andy is totally cool."
Chavira especially appreciates Leisner's perspective on living with diabetes.
"There should definitely be more programs like this," says the teen. "It would definitely benefit many people."
Maria Traferro agrees. At age 13, she spent a year in Daley's program, going to Magic Mountain and the movies with mentor Kristina Keefe. Five years later, Traferro still gets together with Keefe, and, despite their age difference, the 18-year-old considers her adult patron "a very good friend. I look up to her and admire her.... [She's] helped me realize that I'm capable of taking care of myself."
And while Keefe, a graphics business entrepreneur, originally participated with the intention of inspiring a teen, the experience has inspired her as well.
"I was always hesitant in public with my diabetes," says Keefe. "Being with Maria, we sit down at a table, shooting up with our insulin, testing our blood sugar. So that was a big help for me."
One person who values Daley's program is Jerry Rogoway, the Partnership's project committee chair. As a youth, he watched his grandfather die from diabetes. And now that medical advances help keep the devastating effects of diabetes at bay, Rogoway knows that teens must find the key to living with the disease.
"When juveniles are diagnosed," says Rogoway, "they feel that their life is over. A program such as this one lets them know that, even though there are restrictions, they can live a generally normal life."
Keefe says: "The neat thing about the program is that the kids and the adults can see that it's not just about diabetes. It's about developing friendships. Sometimes diabetes doesn't even come up in conversation. It's more about the kids seeing that you're out there, living your life, and that diabetes doesn't have to be all consuming."
In 1988, Daley officially established the Sponsorship with grants from the Diabetes Research and Education Foundation and the American Diabetes Association. Surprisingly, since that time (Tel Aviv University notwithstanding), a diabetic mentorship, to Daley's knowledge, has never been implemented elsewhere.
"I'm disappointed because we really would like to be a model for other centers," says Daley. "But I'm just ecstatic that it's finally happening in Israel ... One of the most prominent features of society in Israel is community support. This program complements that cultural value."
So far, there has been no shortage of volunteers in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, it's been a different story locally. Daley has found plenty of interested Jewish teen-agers around Los Angeles but few Jewish professionals willing to befriend them.
"I cannot say it enough," says Daley, urging prospective mentors to apply. "We need a strong response."
For more information on the Sponsorship for Adolescents with Diabetes, contact Dr. Beverly Daley at (323) 669-2490 or firstname.lastname@example.org.