The Great Motivator
David Boyles walks the walk and encourages kids with diabetes on the path with him
If you were a kid in Houston, it would be tough to find a better mentor than David Boyles: The 67-year-old real estate businessman and Joslin 50-Year Medal recipient has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1958. His success at managing the disease makes him a great mentor—he’s an example of how to live well with diabetes, and so much more.
Boyles is on a mission to share his message with kids with diabetes and their families: You can do more than just live with diabetes. You can flourish with it. “I’ve been to Africa twice, hunting, and taken backup pumps,” he says. “I’ve backpacked off of motorcycles. I’ve done a lot of stuff!”
The road to mentorship started not at a hospital, but at church, where Boyles’s pastor asked if anyone wanted to do outreach at the nearby medical center. Not content to be your average candy striper, Boyles told the endocrinology department at Texas Children’s Hospital he wanted to do more with his time.
“I wanted to be in front of people, talking with them,” Boyles says. “The head of endocrinology wasn’t quite sure what to do with me, but I started going to the clinic and started to do sit-downs with parents. I’d talk to the ladies who keep a tab on all the type 1 diabetics, get a list of what rooms they’re in, a little background on the kid. Then I’d knock on the door and walk in.”
Newly diagnosed kids and those who have fallen off of their diabetes management—Boyles talks to them all. He relates to them all. He shares the story of his own diagnosis: It was a time of glass syringes, stainless steel needles that needed sharpening, and pig- and cow-derived insulin. At 12, all he could think about was getting to summer camp. And, lo and behold, his parents and doctors said yes.
“Off I went to camp with all of this paraphernalia to deal with my diabetes, and I never looked back after that,” Boyles remembers. “I’m so glad they did that for me because it gave me the freedom to realize I could go on with my life the way I wanted to.”
When talking with the kids and their parents, Boyles shows them his insulin pump. (He’s considering a continuous glucose monitor, but hasn’t opted for that yet.) He talks about his exercise routine. He also talks about himself. His is a life that includes recreational hunting and fishing; a lifetime of athletics; a successful business; a devotion to his faith; a wife, Drue; four children; and one grandchild. It’s a life anyone—with or without diabetes—could be happy to achieve.
That’s why Jake Kushner, MD, chief of pediatric diabetes and endocrinology at Texas Children’s Hospital, admires Boyles so much as a mentor for the patients he sees as well as their families.
“He is a wonderful advocate, just brimming with passion and excitement,” Kushner says. “The insight of somebody like Mr. Boyles is invaluable. His message is one of real hope and realism. He doesn’t sugarcoat. He tells how hard it’s been. But it’s important for families to hear that. Many of us will never live up to his accomplishments. I view David as one of my true heroes.”
It should be noted that Boyles hasn’t been alone on his journey with diabetes. He refers to his current health care provider, John Mucha, MS, PA-C, CDE, a diabetologist at Houston Methodist Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, as “my man,” saying, “I adore that guy for taking care of me.” It helps that Mucha understands where Boyles is coming from—he has type 1 diabetes, too.
But even before Mucha, Boyles had a real advocate in his corner: His first endocrinologist was the late Alfred Leiser, MD, one of the original members of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Kingwood, Texas. “He didn’t hound me, he didn’t push me,” says Boyles. “He gave me a lot of latitude. I credit a lot of my success to Alfred.” When Boyles applied for the Joslin medal, which honors those who have lived with diabetes for 50 years or more, Boyles asked Leiser to write him a letter certifying that he treated Boyles all those years ago. Leiser did.
Boyles’s own lifetime dedication to health and achievement is what motivates him. It’s what drives him to keep reaching out to kids, so that they, too, can hit that 50-year mark. Over the past few years, he estimates he may have counseled 300 kids and their families. He believes he’s made an impact. But mentoring has left its mark on him, too. “I feel like I’m really giving something back, that mentoring may help somebody along the line and along their path,” he says. “It’s good for my soul, too.”
So You Want to Be a Mentor
Even if there is no pediatric endocrinology department near you, there are plenty of ways to give back to the diabetes community.
These day- and resident-style camps let kids with diabetes bond. Adults with diabetes can volunteer to supervise and lead portions of these camps. American Diabetes Association Diabetes Camps are open across the country every summer. Find one near you at diabetes.org/camp. Each camp has its own process for volunteer applications.
Kushner suggests using the website Meetup.org to find peer-to-peer mentoring and support in nearly every major American city.
ADA Online Community
The Association’s online message boards (community.diabetes.org) offer a vibrant community for support, outreach, and education.