When you get terrible news, is your first thought to high-five whoever’s nearby and shout, “Woohoo! I can’t wait to see what unexpected joy this will bring into my life!”
No. Because (chances are) you are a normal human being.
Brian Ballard was no different when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1974. At just 11 years old, he had all the classic symptoms…extreme thirst, blurry vision and weight loss. After a couple of weeks, his mom took him to the doctor who knew immediately what was going on, and Brian was admitted to a nearby hospital with a diabetes diagnosis. His first few hours in the hospital were dicey at best – he was accidentally given too much insulin during the night, and he woke up the next morning with a severe low blood sugar. He was quickly transferred to another hospital in the area that had more experience with diabetes, as well as a diabetes education program. And that’s when one of those crazy unexpected life twists came at him fast.
“During the two weeks I was in the hospital learning about diabetes, a magician from Six Flags Over Mid-America came to entertain all the kids, and I just loved it. I was going crazy. I was immediately hooked. A couple of days later, my mom bought me a magic kit from the hospital gift shop. I learned a few quick tricks and I would go around the hospital showing all the doctors and nurses.”
It wasn’t just a passing whim for Brian – it was an unwavering passion. When he got out of the hospital, he practiced more advanced magic tricks with his cousin, and also got involved with a local magic club. He worked hard honing his craft for years, and it was well worth it. “To make a long story short, I’m a professional magician now, and it’s all because of the diabetes.”
He performed magic shows all over St. Louis, and even found a way to incorporate magic into his day job selling health insurance. “I was selling Medicare plans and providing Medicare education to seniors. Eventually I segued into diabetes education because Medicare has special plans for people with diabetes, and that was something I knew about firsthand. I would take three linking ropes to my presentations and I would explain that each rope represented a different part of diabetes management that cannot work on its own – diet, exercise and medication. They all need to work together to control diabetes.” He quickly established a name for himself in the healthcare industry and while doing so, discovered a second passion – helping people learn how to manage diabetes.
He moved his family, his career and his linking ropes to California, and got dialed into the diabetes community in Orange County. He joined a local Lions Club and began leading a diabetes support group. Just last year the Lions Club asked him to become the California Lions State Diabetes Chairperson to help forward their mission of reducing the prevalence of diabetes and improving quality of life for those diagnosed. In the short time he’s served as Diabetes Chairperson, he created a new website at lionsdiabetes.org to raise awareness and offer resources, and he’s hosting an international online event for World Diabetes Day November 14th with speakers from around the world. One of the highlights will be a discussion about a new Lions Club-run diabetes clinic in Nairobi that’s free to anyone in their community.
In addition to his work with the Lions, Brian has been an invaluable support to TCOYD. He first found out about TCOYD from a friend in a diabetes support group, and attended his first TCOYD conference about ten years ago. He was blown away by it and he returned the next year with his wife. Throughout the years he’s gotten to know Dr. Edelman and the team on a personal level.
“I really admire what Dr. Edelman has accomplished with TCOYD. He’s made it possible for thousands of people with diabetes to live healthier, happier lives. I’ve cherished our opportunities to work together in helping people take better control of their diabetes.”
Brian has performed at our live conferences, coordinated outreach programs, volunteered at health fairs, assisted with grant requests, and promoted our workshops to senior centers, retirement communities, and Lions Clubs around the country. Dr. Edelman was impressed with him from day one. “Brian is one of the most dedicated individuals I have met who has totally devoted his life and career to helping others living with this chronic condition. He is a true diabetes advocate!”
Brian has had a positive impact on thousands of people living with diabetes, and diabetes has had a powerful impact on him. “I’m passionate about helping other people living with diabetes. Once a diabetic is diagnosed, they’re scared, they’re crying, and I say, hey it’s not that bad. Look at me. I’ve had diabetes for 46 years. And, if it weren’t for diabetes, I wouldn’t be a magician. You know, diabetes isn’t good, but it’s opened so many doors for me. And it’s been really cool watching how the evolution of diabetes care has changed since the 70s.”
He’s quick to offer encouragement for anyone newly diagnosed. “My advice is to not be scared. There are so many resources and support people in the community who can help you. Don’t be afraid if you screw up your diet once in awhile – the key word here is moderation. So many people are afraid that they’re not going to do it right.”
As someone who has been involved with diabetes education and advocacy for over 30 years and has gone above and beyond furthering the mission of TCOYD, we’re proud to feature Brian as our first TCOYD Champion.
For more information on Lions Clubs International, their upcoming World Diabetes Day event, or to sign up for Brian’s monthly newsletter, visit www. lionsdiabetes.org. If you would like to find out how you can support diabetes education through TCOYD, please visit tcoyd.org/donate.