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Barbie Gets A Pump

Amy Ermel and her daughter Emma have never met Rebecca Sypin and Jane Bingham, but they hope following in their footsteps will convince toy giant Mattel, makers of Barbie and Ken, to create a suite of dolls with diabetes. The Ermel’s Facebook page, Diabetic Barbie, launched in February and as of mid-May had accumulated almost 6,000 “likes.” Sypin and Bingham’s Facebook page, “Bald and Beautiful Barbie: Let’s See If We Can Get It Made,” has garnered more than 159,000 “likes” since Christmas, 2011, the vast majority after CBS News broadcast their story about a Barbie doll with cancer in early January 2012.

Barbie — all 11.5 inches of her — is one of the best-known toys of all time. Vintage Barbies sell for thousands on eBay, but as Barbie has evolved since her 1959 launch, she’s also morphed into many roles — shooting down stereotypes and showing little girls that they can be whatever they want to be. There’s been an elegant Grace Kelly Barbie; a Barbie in thigh-high pink boots; a tattooed Barbie; a pregnant Barbie friend, and another Barbie friend in a wheelchair.

Diagnosed at 4, Emma celebrated her first anniversary of pumping (Animas Ping) in May, so when someone at her school told her about “beautiful and bald Barbie” for kids with cancer, she naturally wondered why Barbie didn’t have an insulin pump. Her mother’s response was to make a pump out of Play-Doh, along with a meter and a syringe. Left out overnight, they hardened up nicely.

Like Sypin and Bingham before her, Amy Ermel took Emma’s diabetic Barbie idea to Mattel. Also like them, she was told, via form letter, than the company does not accept unsolicited suggestions for it’s products. But there is a silver lining: after the CBS news broadcast and the small avalanche of Facebook “likes,” Mattel executives invited the “beautiful and bald” proponents to its headquarters and talked to them about their ideas. Mattel has begun to make bald Barbies, with wigs and other accessories, and distributes them to kids with cancer through hospitals and treatment centers. The bald Barbies are not available in stores.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 11,500 cases of cancer in children under 14 were diagnosed in 2011. In the same time frame, almost 20,000 children were diagnosed with diabetes. Thanks to wonderful advances in medicine and science, the cure rate for kids with cancer is now close to 80%. As we all know, there is no cure for diabetes. Diabetic Barbie won’t solve the problem, but it will help kids with diabetes to feel normal. Keep those “likes” coming.

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Chris Leach was the founding editor of numerous diabetes publications, including Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Health Matters. A lifelong entrepreneur, he also founded New Jersey Monthly and was part of the team that created ESPN, the Magazine. Chris passed away in 2013.

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