People Centre’d on Diabetes: Children learn the ropes of diabetes management at camp

May 19, 2014 

There are low ropes and high ropes courses at diabetes camp. Meant to present challenges, the courses require campers to use their strength, skills and well-planned strategies to overcome obstacles and get to the “finish line.”

The same is true about learning how to manage diabetes. Diabetes camp provides a way for students ages 8 to 16 to “learn the ropes” about the things that will help them be safe and healthy while they pursue a full, rich life with diabetes.

This year, diabetes camp, held in mid-July, takes place in the Laurel Highlands near Pittsburgh. Camp Soles near Lake Tris provides the perfect setting for all the fun that is possible while at camp — kayaking, sailing, swimming and more. While at the camp, children are encouraged to challenge themselves to be successful in many areas, including their own diabetes care. At diabetes camp, they can learn to do things they have never done before.

As a nurse, and part of the 25-person medical team at the camp, it is my job to make sure the campers learn and grow in a safe environment. We provide this safety net through constant vigilance.

Diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce or respond properly to insulin, a hormone that allows blood sugar to enter the cells of the body and be used for energy. Children at diabetes camp have nothing but energy to burn from morning until night. It is our job to help keep their blood sugar regulated by meeting the kids before every meal. We help the camper to determine proper insulin doses based upon the meal and the activities that follow that meal.

We provide measuring cups for the dining room tables so the children can measure their portions, and each camper carries a book that indicates the grams of carbohydrates in foods. In this way, they learn how to be more “in charge” of their own eating.

A status check takes place at midnight and 3 a.m. This protocol is much more rigorous than home-based monitoring. Because diabetes camp is so much out of the variances of home life, this is an extra safety precaution.

Information and knowledge is one of the biggest confidence boosters, so we strive to offer fun ways for the campers to learn about nutrition and exercise. Before the parents leave their kids at the camp, we help everyone set goals for the week. A child’s goal while at camp might be to make new friends. A parent’s goal might be for the child to learn how to give him or herself an arm injection of insulin. Together we establish realistic expectations for the week. The main objective is to have fun.

One child wrote to me and said that it was “worth having diabetes, just so I can go to diabetes camp.” This expression of joy made me happy — not because he said it was “worth having diabetes,” but because he does have diabetes — despite of or because of that — he had the time of his life.

Diabetes camp is open to children with diabetes living in the Centre Region. Some, like Camp Soles, are associated with the American Diabetes Association ( www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/diabetes-camp). Camp Setebaid is another excellent camp in the area ( www.setebaidservices.org).

Marilyn Clougherty is diabetes program coordinator at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. This monthly feature about diabetes and diabetes prevention is brought to you by People Centre’d on Diabetes. To join a discussion of this article or to learn more about PCOD, go to diabetestakeiton.com.

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