In the technology-driven world of the Internet, one of the largest Web sites about diabetes is instead driven by something deeply personal: one man's desire to share information and support with other parents of children with diabetes.
On the Web an individual can make a difference.
"Children with Diabetes" was created by Jeffrey S. Hitchcock of Hamilton, Ohio. Jeff's 9-year-old daughter, Marissa, has had diabetes since the age of 24 months.
Back in the fall of 1994 when Jeff first got Internet access, he found a few sites dealing with diabetes, but they tended to focus on issues of interest to adults either with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, he says. "There was very little that would be of interest to parents with diabetic children and even less to the children themselves."
So in early 1995 Jeff taught himself how to do HTML programming and turned an old 486 computer of his into a webserver and got a dedicated dialup modem account. The "Children with Diabetes" site was born. Suddenly, he found a lot of time to work on his creation. "In July 1995 I got laid off."
Jeff and his brother Larry started Castleweb, which focuses on building sites for the diabetic area. "We persued ventures with various diabetes-related manufacturers, but most of them had no idea what the Web was. It was just too early."
To make ends meet, Jeff again began to work full-time. Even at that, grants from LifeScan, the American glucose meter manufacturer, and from Novo Nordisk, the Danish insulin company, were needed to keep the site going. "The first grant from LifeScan in January 1996 at least made sure that we didn't lose our house," Jeff says.
At last count the site has 1,969 pages of information. Aside from the American Diabetes Association's Web site—which has even more pages—few sites can come close to the size of Jeff's site.
It's a popular site too. In the most recent week the site averaged more than 10,000 hits per day from 1,013 people. More than 74 percent of these were from the United States, about 13 percent were international, and the rest were unknown.
Jeff says that chat rooms are the sites most popular feature, accounting for one-third to one-half of all traffic. There are three different chat areas, and the chat rooms for teens and for parents flip-flop weekly between number one and number two.
The teens talk about diabetes some of the time and the normal stuff that teens talk about the rest of the time, he says. Parents tend to focus mostly on the concerns that parents have.
"There are a lot of shared experiences that would be very hard to get any other way," Jeff says. "This provides them with a virtual support group."
While the chat rooms are the site's biggest draw, the most pages are part of the "Ask the Diabetes Team" area. Here a team of health care professionals—currently six doctors, a nurse, and an exercise physiologist—answer visitors' questions.
"The team has answered more than 1,000 different questions," Jeff says. "The goal is to get real, positive medical information out there—not just touchy-feely stuff."
Coming soon is a major expansion of the "Children with Diabetes" site to be called the Diabetes School. "That is going to be the collective wisdom of a couple of members of the diabetes team, some interactive Java kind of stuff, like quizzes, tests of your knowledge, and books for the kids," Jeff says.
What does he get out of it? "It's a great sense of personal satisfaction for bringing what I believe is an excellent diabetes resource to people who otherwise wouldn't have it. The e-mails go a long way towards helping me keep it going."
Jeff says that "Children with Diabetes" has become his hobby—a time-consuming one that like any child demands constant attention. He says that if he is home, he spends a couple of hours every day working on it and 10 to 12 hours on the weekends no matter where he is.
The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.
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