Imagine being dehydrated all the time, having to use the restroom almost every hour like clockwork and losing a significant amount of weight. These are all symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
This was the case of Will Oberndorfer, a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts. However, Oberndorfer wasn’t going to brood when he was diagnosed at the age of 13.
Inspired by the influential “CHUCKSTRONG” movement occurring in support of then-Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who had been diagnosed with cancer, Will Oberndorfer and his mother, Lisa Oberndorfer, started a fundraiser selling “WILLSTRONG” T-shirts with the words “Stronger Than Diabetes” written on the back. They raised almost $7,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, according to Will Oberndorfer.
For many families, insurance doesn’t cover enough of the cost for diabetic supplies, Will said.
Insulin costs largely contribute to why the average annual per-patient spending on treatment for type 1 diabetes increased from $12,467 in 2012 to $18,494 in 2016, according to an article published by WebMD in July.
“We thought we were definitely lucky with our financial situation,” Will Oberndorfer said, before sharing that his thought process was that “we should try to use this as a platform to help others.”
Eventually, Will and his mother co-founded Diabetes Will’s Way, a nonprofit organization that, according to Will Oberndorfer, “mitigates the financial burden for families with kids who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes."
As co-founders, Will Oberndorfer and his mother have different roles in their organization.
“She definitely does more of the day-to-day work, so she puts in more of the hours, more of the behind-the-scenes work, and I do more fundraising, being the face (of the organization)," Will Oberndorfer said. "Writing blogs, ... different things like that. I’ll speak at different events.”
Will Oberndorfer is the only member of the organization’s board who has type 1 diabetes and “offers a needed perspective to what we do,” Lisa Oberndorfer said in a text message.
Diabetes Will’s Way offers two types of grants. One is the emergency grant, given out if a family is in immediate need of supplies, like a vial of insulin or pump replacement. This grant does not cover all costs, but gives families enough money to afford them “grace of time,” Lisa Oberndorfer said.
The other grant is more of a long-term grant that goes toward the payment of specific supplies, like a pump or a continuous glucose monitor. Whether it covers all costs is dependent on the families’ insurance plan, according to Lisa Oberndorfer.
These two grants are funded through “private donations, friends, family, random people who just want to help in the diabetes community,” Will Oberndorfer said. Additional funding is made by way of grant writing to institutions such as Roche as well as a plethora of creative fundraising events.
The organization is unique as it is “the only nonprofit organization that does this type of grant for diabetics ... (who) need this specific type of help, because insulin prices are so high,” according to Will.
Diabetes Will’s Way celebrated its fifth anniversary earlier in April. Will estimated that over $130,000 worth of grants have been given out.
“So far, we’ve helped 135 families, and we have not had to deny anyone who has gone through the process to apply for grants. So far, we have been very blessed to have had enough funds to be able to do that,” Will Oberndorfer said.
However, Diabetes Will’s Way is about more than grants and giving people money. It’s also about giving people with diabetes a community, Will Oberndorfer said.
“A lot of times, families will just reach out because they need to know someone else with diabetes,” Will Oberndorfer said.
Sam Baldwin, for example, didn’t know of anyone who was diabetic like him. Baldwin reached out to Will Oberndorfer, who also offered to play basketball with him.
“(Will Oberndorfer) was one of the first people I could really talk to about diabetes,” Baldwin said. “It was just kinda cool to know and talk to somebody I was similar with, who had it, and he was just someone who I could always ask questions to, and he mentored me about it.”
Diabetes Will’s Way is also about inspiring hope.
“Hope that someone is listening, hope that someone will fight for your family and hope for the grace of a financial grant,” Lisa Oberndorfer said.
Will Oberndorfer said his Christian faith has contributed to his feelings about helping others.
“So it makes me feel like I’m doing God’s work,” Will said. “But I feel like, as soon as I look back and admire too much, then I’m getting too complacent. There’s still so much work to be done, and so many families to help, but it’s definitely sweet to be able to have had such an impact.”
Moving forward, one goal of Diabetes Will’s Way is to expand its impact beyond the Midwest, which includes Indiana and surrounding states.
“We still focus mainly on the Midwest, even though we’re nationwide," Will Oberndorfer said. "Most of our grants come from the Midwest, but there are millions of people with diabetes.”
Looking to the future, Will Oberndorfer is ready to “step up to a higher role in marketing” as well as implement more things, such as a “diabetes for dollars” golf outing event Will Oberndorfer said he is planning for next summer.
“When we face challenges, we grow so much from them, and that growth can be beneficial when sharing it with others,” Will Oberndorfer said. “I think that’s an example of what my mom and I have done at Diabetes Will’s Way — taking this growth that we learned from going through the struggles of diabetes and helping to share it with others.”