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Q&A with Greer Wylder: Turning Fashion Fans into Diabetes Activists

Q&A with Greer Wylder: Turning Fashion Fans into Diabetes Activists

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Photo by Brystan Studios

Howard Stern likes to call himself the King of All Media. He may have some competition.

Greer Wylder may be the Queen of All Media soon. She started out as a reporter, writing for the Daily Pilot in Newport Beach, Calif., and other publications. Then she started her own company: Greer’s OC, which began simply enough as a daily tip sheet for foodies and fashion hunters looking to stay ahead of the what’s current in the ever changing world of Southern California retail. She could have stopped there, but she started using that platform to develop events and contests and a range of partnerships. She also used it as a way to reach new audiences with her other passion: curing type 1 diabetes.

Greer has four sons, and one of them, Tristan, was diagnosed with the disease as a teen-ager. It merits emphasizing that diabetes can devastate. If not carefully managed, it can lead to the loss of limbs, organ failure, and a greatly shortened lifespan. Adults with master’s degrees have a hard enough time staying on top of it. Now take a kid in the middle of puberty, peer pressure, and pre-college expectations, and add a chronic condition demanding constant monitoring. Can you imagine the ways that could go wrong?

Greer did imagine. And she also imagined an increasingly sophisticated awareness campaign to generate a cure, the latest step of which is a documentary film she is helping produce. I asked the Queen of All Media -- writer, entrepreneur, filmmaker -- some questions via email, and here’s what she had to say. The first part of our interview is below. Stay tuned for more next week.

Q: How did you find out that your son had type 1 diabetes and what was your reaction?

A: Tristan was a completely healthy, active 14-year-old, but he started to complain in Nov. 2005 that he couldn’t see the board at school, so I took him in for an eye exam at his pediatrician’s the morning before Thanksgiving. I didn’t tell anyone, but I knew the signs of type 1, and he had them – excessive thirst, frequent urination – so I asked his doctor to give him a blood test while he was having his vision test. The doctor came back in our room and told us that he was sorry but that he just got off the phone with Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and they had a bed waiting for him. He had type 1 diabetes. His blood sugar was about 380. A normal blood sugar is about 100. I told my son that I would be right back, and I went into a closet and called my husband. He couldn’t understand a word I was saying. It changed our world. Forever.

Q: When and how did you begin becoming active in the effort to find a cure for the disease?

A: As a mom, I felt helpless and hopeless, until I found the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I didn’t have any friends who I could talk to who could relate. I had no one. It was a lonely and scary time. My son was a teenager. His life changed overnight. He was no longer carefree. He was tied to syringes, vials of insulin, test strips and blood meters 24 hours a day. I was worried to death all the time. The nurses told me a type 1 diagnosis for teens is especially hard. One day, I emailed JDRF with the subject line “Help.” And within minutes I had a call from Michelle Popoff at JDRF, also a type 1 diabetic in charge of outreach. I also had another board member with a son with type 1 call me and invite me to luncheon for JDRF. To this day we are great friends, and she saved my life. With JDRF, I finally met my family. These people are my lifesavers. They’re all parents, family members of T1Ds, or they have type 1. They’re just extremely passionate about finding a cure. I joined the board of JDRF five years ago to help raise awareness and funds for research for a cure for type 1.

Q: In your day job, you write about fashion, shopping, food – basically fun ways to spend your time. But you have found ways to marry that work to the quest to find a diabetes cure. Tell me about how you do that?

A: Diabetes is always in the back of my mind, so even though I’m writing about “the good life” in Orange County – and that’s attractive to so many – I want those same people to be aware that there is a need to raise money, attend events, become educated in the fight to cure type 1 diabetes. I frequently write about JDRF events, the University of California Irvine Diabetes Center, the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital, as well as other important charities in our community.

Q: How did this latest opportunity to get involved in the making of The Human Trial come about?

A: Five years ago I met two incredibly talented documentary filmmakers, Lisa Hepner and Guy Mossman of Vox Pop Films, at a JDRF event in Newport Beach. They were showing a clip of their documentary “One Shot” that was following the cycling Team Type 1 on their quest to become the first diabetic cycling team to make it to the Tour de France. I loved the trailer. I loved their passion. They wanted to show the world on film what it’s like to live with type 1 diabetes. Lisa has lived with type 1 for 22 years. We became friends and kept in touch. Lisa and Guy knew that I was well connected and super passionate about their film, so shortly thereafter they asked me to become the Executive Producer. Over the years, the film has evolved to now follow the quest to cure type 1 diabetes.

Q: Documentaries are rarely big hits, and so the prospects of gaining widespread awareness might be a challenge. What do you hope to accomplish with this film?

A: Type 1 diabetes is an invisible disease, we want to make it visible. It’s naïve to ignore the impact of diabetes. Both type 1 and type 2 are rapidly growing, and diabetes-related costs in the U.S. exceed $218 billion per year. We want this film to start a national conversation about what it’s really like to live with type 1 diabetes and how difficult and ravaging the disease can be. It can strike anyone at anytime. There is no cure and complications can include kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke, and pregnancy complications.

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