|A young Antigo girl, diagnosed six months ago with Type I diabetes, wants other children to gain comfort from her experiences.|
Anja Busse, 11, is spearheading an effort to have American Girl, the popular doll maker headquartered in Middleton, create a special diabetic doll, complete with diabetic supplies and insulin pump. She has created an online petition that, in just a few weeks, has already gained over 2,500 signatures.
“It’s good to have a doll that has the same stuff you have,” Anja, daughter of Ingrid and Chad Busse, said. “It would really be a comfort to other girls who are diagnosed with diabetes.”
The doll, she said, could also have a glucose meter, sites for injections and perhaps some “pick-me-ups,” the snacks diabetics typically carry to help control their blood sugar.
“There are thousands of girls with diabetes and it’s really hard for some of them getting diagnosed,” she said. “It’s easier with a doll that looks just like you. You have someone to take care of.”
There’s more. Anja and her parents have started a nonprofit organization, Boxes of Joy for Diabetics, that they hope will provide care packages to newly diagnosed boys and girls. The boxes would contain items such as a stuffed animal, fleece blanket, medical alert bracelet, food scale, collapsible measuring cups and some fun children’s books featuring diabetic characters.
Anja is also recruiting walkers for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund regional chapter’s Walk to Cure Diabetes event in Stevens Point on Oct. 4, with a goal of 300 participants raising $100,000. She’s already got a national sponsor, Shwings, and hopes to make history with the largest family walk ever.
And her design for a race car decal has been picked to be in the Ford “Everyday Heroes” contest for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. The winner, chosen in part, through Internet voting, will get his or her design featured on a real race car and help raise money to find a cure for the disease.
Not bad for a girl who was sent reeling just months ago, with an unexpected diagnosis.
According to her mother, Anja’s troubles began during a family vacation to Colorado, where she became irritable, began drinking an unusual amount of water with frequent bathroom trips, complained her stomach ached and in one week lost a startling 20 pounds on her slender frame.
When the family arrived home they took Anja to their doctor, who immediately sent her to St. Joseph Hospital in Marshfield. She was admitted with a blood sugar level of 900, nine times higher than normal, and at risk of falling into a potentially fatal diabetic coma.
The next 24 hours were filled with blood glucose checks, insulin shots, no sleep and lots of education, Mrs. Busse said.
“It has been so amazing to see my daughter step up to the challenge,” she said. “She went from being deathly afraid of shots to giving herself four to five a day in a matter of weeks.”
Anja remembered tears—from herself, her parents, and her young brothers, Karl, 9, Max, 8, and Rutger, 5—and a fear that she was dying.
Type I diabetes is a life-threatening autoimmune disease in which a person's pancreas stops producing insulin. It strikes both children and adults suddenly and changes life as they know it forever. It is different from the more common Type 2, which may be controlled through diet and exercise. Anja will have to take insulin injections daily for the rest of her life. There is nothing she could have done to prevent it.
“As her blood sugar levels improved, we got our energetic, happy child back again,” Mrs. Busse said. “Thankfully, there are more good days than bad, and each day it seems to be getting a little easier. We like to focus on those days instead of the bad ones.”
Those good days included getting two American Girl dolls for Christmas, which is when Anja discovered that the company makes dolls with service dogs, glasses, hearing aids, braces, in wheelchairs and even food allergies.
That got Anja thinking, and the online petition drive was started.
“I thought it was a great idea and encouraged her,” Mrs. Busse said. “After all, you can’t change anything if you don’t try. Our whole family is behind her and we know that this will become reality someday.”
Anja was stunned by the quick response.
“I had 100 signatures overnight,” she said,
Diabetes touches the lives of everyone, Mrs. Busse explained, with 371 million people who either Type 1 or 2 worldwide.
“We feel like these accessories would not only benefit diabetic girls, but also the millions of girls who have a sibling and/or a loved one with diabetes.”
American Girl has gotten the message, Stephanie Spanos, a spokesman for the company, said.
“We appreciate the enthusiasm and trust our fans have in us to create products and stories that celebrate all girls, and we applaud Anja for her passion and determination,” Spanos said. “American Girl is proud of its positive reputation for inclusiveness, and it is an important area in which we remain committed to exploring and expanding. Each day, American Girl receives a multitude of passionate requests for a particular doll, story, or accessory to be created. While we know each request is important, we are unable to guarantee when, or if, a particular product will be developed. However, we are always considering new ways to enhance our doll lines with products that will resonate with girls on a variety of levels.”
The Boxes of Joy also rose from Anja’s experiences. After she was diagnosed, she received a series of what she termed “boring’ educational books and a teddy bear which is cute, but impractical for determining injection sites. It also arrived weeks after her hospital discharge.
“We would like to raise money so that we can donate as many of these accessories as possible to newly diagnosed girls in the hospital throughout the country when they become available,” Mrs. Busse said. “We want them to feel special and know they are not alone, especially during that very difficult time.”
Anja’s efforts have gained nationwide attention through television new stories as well as through social media such as Facebook. In addition, Bret Michaels, the lead singer of Poison who has Type I diabetes, has featured her story on his website, with potentially worldwide distribution.
“It has been a hard adjustment, Mrs. Busse admitted. “Some days she gets frustrated and angry with diabetes...I know we can make a difference with people’s help.”
To follow Anja’s petition and fund-raising challenges, visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/diabeticamericangirl.
“I just want everyone to feel good about themselves no matter if they have something wrong with them,” Anja said. “Whether they have a disability, blindness, deaf, diabetes, and so much more! It's important to feel good about yourself. No matter who you are. Be yourself and show your inner star. Express yourself and be yourself.”
Anja Busse with her two American Girl dolls. She'd like the company to add a model representing children with diabetes.