A Newport Coast teen is set to donate 200 teddy bears with medical ID bracelets around their necks to Children's Hospital of Orange County next week.
Devon Cohen, who has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, has raised almost $30,000 for diabetes research.
The 13-year-old will speak in front of almost 250 people at his bar mitzvah Saturday in Costa Mesa and will read excerpts from an edition of the Torah that survived the Holocaust.
The bears and bracelets project was part of his mitzvah project, a social endeavor that Jewish children undertake.
Devon, a soon-to-be eighth-grader at Corona del Mar Middle School, celebrated his birthday Thursday.
A date for the official bears and bracelets donation ceremony at CHOC has not been set.
"I'm so excited for this. It's going to be amazing," Devon said Friday. "It's such a sense of accomplishment to know you're actually doing something good, when you know you can help people less fortunate.
"This happened because I just thought every kid with diabetes should have an ID bracelet. They can save the kids' lives if there's an accident. And the bears are for when they need to hug something. Sometimes everyone needs a hug."
Devon's mother, Kim Cohen, needed a hug a year and a half ago when he was diagnosed.
Unlike Type 2, which is caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, Type 1 is unpreventable and genetically transferred. Five percent of people with diabetes have Type 1, according to the American Diabetes Assn.
Concerned by his severe fatigue at a soccer practice in September 2010, Devon's parents rushed him to CHOC's main facility in Orange. An hour later, he was diagnosed with the same disease his father, Brad Cohen, discovered he had at the same age.
"When I first got diagnosed, I got really depressed, but then I realized at least it's not something worse," Devon said. "I can deal with it on a daily basis. My dad has it and he deals with it just fine. He's had it for 30 years, and if he can deal with it, I can.
"He's done really well, built huge companies and has a successful life. He's my inspiration."
Elizabeth Beko — a certified diabetes educator and designated nurse at CHOC's Newport Beach office who has worked closely to help the Cohens, including 10-year-old twins Sydney and Zachary, transition with the disease — said Devon handled the news very well.
"He behaved as if it was just a little hiccup and then just moved on," she said. "Some of the kids get devastated. They will ask me, 'When can I not have to do this anymore?' And you have to tell them, 'It's forever.' Devon never even asked me that. He just took it in stride."
The inspiration for the bears and bracelets project stems from a hospital elevator ride Devon took with his mother the day he was diagnosed.
"[A] little girl looked at my [diabetes-specific medical ID] bracelet and asked her mom if she could have one like mine for her Christmas and birthday present combined," he said. "It made me so sad that they didn't have the money to get one. I asked my mom if I could give her mine. A couple dollars was nothing, you know?"
With a mass email and Facebook event page having raised so much, Devon is focused on providing a bear and bracelet to each child at CHOC who's been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes for as long as possible, thanks to a fundraising webpage the hospital gave him.
Bears and bracelets isn't Devon's first diabetes fundraiser, however.
Last November, the Cohens were the top fundraisers for the Walk to Cure Diabetes at UC Irvine, put on by the Orange County chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. His team, Sweet Pee and his Sugar Daddy, raised $18,486 that went directly to Type 1 diabetes research.
"We're impressed with his dedication to doing what he can to help find a cure and making such aggressive goals for himself and the cause," said foundation Executive Director Linda Riley. "He's an inspiration to the kids by doing what he's doing and not letting the attributes of the disease get to him."
In September, Devon raised nearly $5,000 at a gala for the UCI Center for Diabetes Treatment and Research. He sold raffle tickets with the sales pitch, "I have Type 1 diabetes. Buy a ticket!"
He credits his parents — South Africa natives who met in Newport Beach in 1989 — for his charitable spirit. Brad and Kim Cohen also raise funds for diabetes research.
Brad is chief executive of his own escrow services business, Granite Escrow. He served as president of the Orange County chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in 2006, and is on the executive board at the UCI Center for Diabetes Treatment and Research.
"What I'm trying to do as a parent is what my father did for me," Brad said. "I'm trying to teach him not to use his illness as a crutch. There's not a minute in the day when the disease doesn't affect you. But, even at 13, he's comforting me with his wisdom, telling me I'm doing a great job."
Devon said he would either like to be a defense attorney or an endocrinologist, though he said he had trouble pronouncing the latter.
"Those are just two really good jobs to have," he said. "If I'm a lawyer, I can help people if they're in trouble and junk. And with the other job, you can help cure people of diabetes."
Family friend Dr. Ping Wang, director of the UCI Center for Diabetes Treatment and Research, serves as a mentor to Devon.
"You never know when the cure will come," he said. "It could be just around the corner. It could be years away.
"But Devon is a very energetic, conscientious boy. He's aware of the epidemic of diabetes now and how it can change a person's life. He's doing something about it. The world needs more boys like him."
Online donations for Devon's bears and bracelets fundraiser can be made at choccommunity.org/devon.