WALKWAY OF HOPE-PART I

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The Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, Florida

Barry and Linda Gibb’s charity

 

January 15, 2014

For the next week, I will be posting three reports, detailing for Bee Gee fans what happened when I went to spend the day with the wonderful people at both the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation office in Hollywood, Florida and the Institute itself in Miami, Florida. I wanted to learn why the Bee Gees have supported this charity since the 70’s and what fans really need to know. I am grateful and honored to have had this experience.

WALKWAY OF HOPE-PART I

Diabetes Research Institute

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Barry and Linda Gibb’s Charity—What Bee Gee Fans Should Know

There’s one thing I know for certain to be true. Bee Gee fans are a compassionate, giving family of generous people. Thousands donate time and money to various charities around the globe and help those less fortunate, following in the footsteps of Barry, Robin, Maurice and Andy Gibb. Our Bee Gees have supported the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation since the 70’s, and my burning question is “Why this particular charity?” We all know about the Love and Hope Ball and that the funds go to this charity. What has the Gibbs’ dedication meant to DRIF and what does DRIF actually do?  I set out to find the answers for myself. After all, if my musical heroes dedicated their time and money to this organization, I wanted to know why and share my findings with the fans.

From the moment I first called the DRIF in search of information, the Bee Gee influence made itself known. As my call was momentarily put on hold, I was serenaded with “More Than A Woman”. I later found out from Aurora, the smiling lady at the front desk, that a Greatest Hits CD rotates so that callers hear a variety of Bee Gee songs. Now I was really in a good mood! A conversation with Lauren, the Director of Marketing and Communications, was successful. After arranging to visit both the DRI Foundation office in Hollywood, Florida and the Institute in Miami on January 10, I was filled with anticipation and curiosity. What was it that brought Barry and his brothers back year after year to perform and hold events, such as their tennis tournaments, for DRIF?

To say that I was changed forever after the 8 hours I spent with DRI employees sounds melodramatic and theatrical, but that’s exactly how I feel as I write this article, and I’d like to tell all the fans why.

The day began with a visit to the office in Hollywood, Florida. Accompanied by my comrade Debbi, we entered a lovely building where a large wing of offices, which seemed to go on forever, housed dedicated employees hard at work doing what they do best, supporting the research scientists and the cause, which is to cure Type I diabetes.   My head hurts thinking of what has to be done for the Love and Hope Ball alone, not to mention the development work that is ongoing. One glance at the website, www.diabetesresearch.org, and I was overwhelmed with the activities, workshops and publications that are offered. I was fortunate to speak via conference call to Barbara Singer. In 1971, she and her husband Sheldon were one of the five founding families of DRIF. Two of the Singer children have been afflicted with the disease, and they were determined to take action for a cure. When I asked her about Barry Gibb, her response was enthusiastic and quick, “Barry is incredible. He is so generous with his time and talent. We sometimes take him for granted because he’s a neighbor, but he’s really a superstar”. Barbara wanted Bee Gee fans to know that a “very high percentage of them will have a member of their families stricken with this disease”. I had read that the DRI is “patient-centered” and Barbara explained that all the research conducted at the DRI must have the potential to be applied to people and improve the lives of those with diabetes. She also explained that, as a symbol of the focus, “the lobby is also the patient waiting room. The people sitting there know that the research is being done right there and the scientists walk through that same lobby every day, reminded that their research has a very real purpose.” Her message to fans, “The bottom line is that we need to raise funds and awareness”.

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 Barbara Singer

It was apparent that the employees love their work, and it was rewarding to speak with Jill Shapiro Miller, Lauren Schreier and Nicole Otto. When asked about the Gibb family involvement, they told me that “Linda Gibb is so wonderful. She is hands-on and all of the Gibb children are part of the Young Society of Love and Hope, following in their parents’ footsteps”.

I left the office uplifted and inspired. The positive energy and talented individuals I had just met were a joy to be around, and I looked forward to my next stop, the Institute itself.

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Jill, Lauren and Nicole at DRIF Office

The Diabetes Research Institute is a Center of Excellence at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. It is an imposing modern building, and I was immediately struck by the long walkway leading to a garden and sculpture area outside of the large lobby. I thought aloud, “here’s the walkway to a cure, the walkway of hope of patients who are struck down with Type I diabetes.” I wondered about the stories of the patients who had come to this Institute for help and how they were progressing, what they were facing and how they dealt with their disease.

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     The Diabetes Research Institute

Walking into a large lobby, we were directed to the sixth floor; and as we walked out of the elevator, I immediately spotted Dr. Ricordi, who was standing with three attractive ladies, deep in discussion. I was a bit dumbstruck. Here he stood in front of me, Dr. Camillo Ricordi, the Distinguished Professor of Medicine, the Professor of Biomedical Engineering, the Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, who also happens to be the Director of the Diabetes Research Institute and an acclaimed scientist in diabetes cure-focused research. WOW! WOW! WOW! This was impressive and exciting. Gary Kleiman, the Director of Medical Development, stood beside Dr. Ricordi. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, the two of them together. My appointment was with Gary, and I was looking forward to it; but here stood the Big Chief himself, the Big Kahuna. If a Bee Gee fan walked into a room and there stood Barry Gibb smiling, the affect would have been the same. Yes, he is that important and famous and unique. Wearing a white lab coat and black-framed glasses, he was soft-spoken and gentle.

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Dr. Ricordi with Uchi, Bonnie and Veronica, all diabetes mothers

 A charming Italian accent came along with his responses to my inquiries. After introductions, Dr. Ricordi invited us into his office. The office was small and crowded. There were no fancy leather sofas or large windows overlooking the sea, no glitz or glam. A desk was piled high with papers, clearly the desk of a very busy man. Photos of young Type I diabetes patients were on the wall. A large poster detailing the Cure Alliance was in view to my left. The three ladies sat with us around an oval conference table. They were eager to share their common bond and love of the Institute. Bonnie Inserra’s daughter Lindsey was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age11. Uchi Botero’s daughter Tatiana was diagnosed when she was 7, and Veronica Alvarez’s daughter Maria was also 7 when she learned she had the disease. Bonnie explained that “this place is like a second home. It gives us hope and strength. We love it here.” Dr. Ricordi emphasized to me the importance of the Cure-Focus Research Alliance that brings together scientists worldwide. Dr.Ricordi encourages scientists to work together, not to compete but to share research findings. Bonnie jumped in, “Dr. Ricordi shares all of his work with others. This is a collaborative environment.” It’s not just about the collaboration, though, because it’s important to address the obstacles that prevent the research and overcome them, to do a minimum of testing and get to the clinical trials. The goal is to find a cure. In reading about all of the awards Dr. Ricordi has received for his research and findings, I was a bit intimidated to meet him, but the man who stood before me was humble and focused, a quiet urgency in his voice when he spoke of the Institute’s work. I had read articles about him, many which said “Dr. Ricordi works tirelessly for a cure”. I always wondered what that really means. I know that this man works long hours and has dedicated himself to this cause for many years, but I have a feeling that someone with his vision and determination gets tired often because he would make the Energizer bunny jealous with his work ethic. I got tired just listening to him! He was passionate about the Cure Alliance and suggested I tell fans about the Facebook page. Click LIKE everyone!

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Veronica mentioned to Dr. Ricordi that when her daughter was diagnosed just over a year and a half before, he said his goal was to have a cure in five years. “Is that your hope?” Veronica asked. Dr. Ricordi responded, “We will cure Diabetes. It’s not a hope. It is a promise.”

Coming up…Part II….meeting the scientists—their research work for a cure……

Part III….Barry and Linda’s involvement and who is Barry’s friend Gary and what is he all about?

About morobinbarrystories

Anne Jakowenko, the blog author, has been loving the Bee Gees for decades while raising her sons and teaching college students Speech Communication and English skills at her alma mater, Syracuse University, where she received her Master’s degree. She has also taught for SUNY Oswego and Barry University. Currently, Anne is teaching for the State College of Florida while she continues to collect stories for her book, My Life with the Boys.
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