Bay Area jewelry maker mixing medicine, fashion

January 20, 2010 7:09:27 PM PST
Millions of Americans with conditions ranging from diabetes to allergies are forced to wear medical ID bracelets that could inform emergency responders about their condition. Now, a Bay Area jewelry maker is blending in style along with the life-saving function.

Unless you caught a glimpse of her glucose monitor, you would probably never guess that triathlete Kathleen Fraser is a diabetic. The medical ID bracelet she wears in case of emergency is a bit unconventional too.

"This one here, I like the most because it's really small and I think it's fashionable," she says. I've been wearing it swimming the bay for several months."

Fraser's bracelets are the work of local Bay Area jewelry maker Elizabeth Torbit. In a studio in San Francisco's Mission District, she designs, solders and shapes custom medic alert bracelets. She says her inspiration for starting the business came from an incident several years ago, when she herself suddenly collapsed from an allergy while having dinner with friends.

"Paramedics got there luckily, just in time, to give me the proper medical treatment that I needed," she recalls. After that, I went to my doctor and he said, 'You must wear medical information on you at all times.'"

While the styles might rival something one would find in a sidewalk boutique, Torbit's designs all incorporate medical alert symbols designed to catch the attention of paramedics, like the Universal Star of Life. Details of a customer's condition are engraved on the back.

"There is this fine line, where you have to meet, you know, it needs to be recognized. But, there's a stylish way to be able to create jewelry so that you can definitely serve that function but also create an object that has a little more personality, is a little more fun to wear," Torbit explains.

Torbit says her customers range from diabetics and epileptics, to people with severe allergies.

As for Fraser, she sees the combination of function and style as a whimsical break in the work of managing her disease.

"For me, there's not much to be excited about, about having a chronic disease. So, if you can have something that is not only functional but also fashionable as well, then I'm all for that," she says.