When Barbara Pasternak’s two young sons were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in 1999, the Pasternak family was forced to grapple with many unforeseen difficulties, big and small. Fortunately, thanks to Barbara’s private health insurance, paying for two essential $300 insulin kits was not one of those difficulties.
“I was so grateful that we had health insurance,” said Pasternak, Chair and Founder of the Diabetes Hope Foundation (DHF).
“But that was my a-ha moment when I said, ‘What about these people who don't have health insurance? How are they ever going to help their kids begin their new diabetes journey without insulin and syringes when they can't afford it?” she said.
Inspired by her own experiences, Pasternak founded DHF, and a few years later created a program to help youth without insurance gain access to insulin kits. In partnership with Medtronic, that same program also supplied three siblings from a single-parent household with an insulin pump each. This is just one of the ways DHF, with the help of Medtronic, has helped young people faced with T1D.
DHF is a grassroots not-for-profit organization that specializes in helping young people with T1D transition from pediatric to adult care. When children are diagnosed with diabetes, their health is overseen by pediatric clinics. According to Pasternak, “their nurses and doctors become their second family. So when they have to leave that warm environment and go into a very cold environment in adult care … many of the kids just cannot find that fit to really receive proper care and support, which is mandatory for their health and their future life.”
DHF supports this crucial transition through their mentorship program, free resources, and financial awards for tuition and medical supplies.
Since its inception, DHF has awarded over 800 scholarships to students in post-secondary schools around the world. The scholarship program aims to enable students to achieve their ambitions without being defined and held back by diabetes.
"We have a huge alumni support, and the other unique part of the foundation is that the kids who do get scholarships, which is our signature program, they pay it forward (by volunteering). So not only do they get scholarships, these kids pay it forward to those who follow," said Pasternak.
Young people with T1D often can’t help but feel different from their peers. Beyond financial aid, DHF offers mentorship programs for youth and new post-secondary students. Mentorship from program alumni reminds participants that they are not alone – and that they too, with discipline and hard work, can achieve their goals, said Pasternak.
Equipping and educating
Since 2002, Medtronic has bolstered the efforts of DHF through the sponsorship of 72 academic scholarships, insulin pump donations, and additional financial support. Medtronic was the first sponsor of the Transition Guide, a free resource featuring a review of the rights of students with diabetes, as well as information about diabetes supports at almost 200 post-secondary schools.
Medtronic’s support enabled the printing and distribution of the Transition Guide to clinics all around the country.
“Medtronic has from the very beginning until today always been one of our most loyal and strongest supporters,” said Pasternak, who was recently awarded the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Decoration for her work at DHF. “I'm just so honoured to have them by our side.”
More than 20 years since its founding, DHF continues to successfully shift with the times. It recently set up virtual programs for those needing support during COVID, and has begun building a smartphone app that gives youth easy access to the Transition Guide. “We've been asked about it for so many years by the clinicians, ‘Please, the kids need it on their phones.’ With the help of an alumni app technician, the project is now underway.
Medtronic continues to assist DHF in new endeavours and to fund scholarships, five of which are currently pending. “It was really just so amazing that we have this phenomenal support from Medtronic who've always been there to help us kickstart and launch our programs,” added Pasternak.