A funny thing happened to Melenee Suarez Burns recently as she left her apartment building at 116th Street and 3rd Avenue, in the heart of Spanish Harlem: she met a New York Times camera crew and reporter who happened to be in the neighborhood doing a weekly video feature called Intersections, which surveys the street fashion in NYC neighborhoods.
With her bright red hair, wearing a knee-length vintage like hounds-tooth dress from the 1950s (and men’s two-toned saddle-like shoes) Melenee is always a street-style stand-out—even in colorful Spanish Harlem. “I thought they were stopping me for directions,” said Melenee, who wore red and white checkered shoes to her wedding. “People have always said that I have a style of my own, now I guess it’s true. Everything happens for a reason even fashion.”
A multitude of people saw the video featuring Melenee on www.nytimes.com, including her team at Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, where she receives her care for type 1 diabetes, a condition she has had since she was 10-years-old. “I never had perfect numbers,” said Melenee, a Technical Recruiter who always dresses with flair. “But I’m healthy and I’m getting amazing full service at the Berrie Center.”
For her 40th birthday, Melenee came up with a list of 40 things she wanted to do while wearing an insulin pump. She successfully went skydiving and zip-lining and swimming with the Polar Bear Club off of Coney Island. She has also found creative places to keep her pump when she wears the referee uniform of a Non-Skating Official (NSO) with Gotham Girls Roller Derby. Melenee has integrated her sense of style with her type 1 diabetes nearly seamlessly, especially now that many diabetes devices are the size of a cell phone, if not smaller. In fact, she says that she could write the book—or at least teach the course—on “dressing for any occasion with an insulin pump.”
Her real specialty, she says, is dressing up with an insulin pump. “You can pretty much wear anything you want to wear,” said Melenee who, added that “Spanx” is the best undergarment tool she has yet to encounter to hide an insulin pump in a tight dress (like the fitted mermaid style dress she wore for her wedding). “Just like with type 1 diabetes, you can do whatever you want and you can eat what you want. You just need to prepare in advance, always be aware of your numbers and what your body is telling you.”