Diabetes Forecast

The Red Bird Family Retreat Offers Support

By Kelly Toves ,

Nicole and Megan Rekart at last year's Red Bird Family Retreat in Potosi, Mo.

When her 14-year-old daughter, Megan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Nicole Rekart was scared. No one in her family had the disease, and she didn't know anyone who could relate. "I wanted to be a sponge and learn everything about it," says Rekart, of Union, Mo. Sifting through diabetes pamphlets at the hospital, she found information on the Red Bird Family Retreat, a chance for families to meet and share tips on how better to deal with diabetes.

The annual event, hosted by the American Diabetes Association, began in 2005. It was designed for the families of children with type 1, ages 5 through 13. Cathy Hartmann, associate manager for the ADA in St. Louis, says the retreat serves to improve diabetes management skills and helps families develop a network of support they can turn to. More than 20 families, including Rekart's, attended last year's Red Bird Family Retreat. This year, the retreat will be held November 18 through 20 at the YMCA of the Ozarks-Trout Lodge in Potosi, Mo.

For the Rekarts, the 2010 retreat came four months after daughter Megan's diagnosis. The most helpful session, Nicole Rekart says, centered on how to manage sick days, when blood glucose levels may fluctuate and insulin needs may change. The nurses at the retreat also talked about insulin pumps and offered Megan a demo to take home; she received her own pump in June.

Hartmann says some families return to the retreat year after year to act as mentors and offer advice to newcomers. "They know what it was like to be there and be newly diagnosed," she says. The retreat explores new topics every year so that all families can get something out of it. Last year, topics ranged from children's hormonal changes to diabetes advocacy in schools. Kids also rode horses, climbed rock walls, and did arts and crafts projects.

Delana and Ron Mazdra with daughters Leah (left) and Sarah.

Delana Mazdra, a professional photographer who attends the retreat every year, recognizes when families need help. You can see it on their faces, she says. She's been there before. Her 11-year-old daughter Sarah was diagnosed with type 1 in 2008; she attended her first retreat that year with her parents and her twin sister, Leah, who does not have diabetes. Mazdra tries to encourage newcomers by letting them know that good management of diabetes is rarely achieved overnight. "It's one of the most complicated diseases to control," she says. She adds that parents should try to remember the importance of making time for each member of the family, noting that it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day worries of the child with diabetes.

Another goal of the retreat, Hartmann says, is to give parents a taste of what it would be like to send their kids away to a diabetes camp. "We find that parents kind of enjoy having a break from diabetes management," she says. For some families, she adds, it's a rare experience to be away from their children, especially if one was recently diagnosed.

Mazdra says their first retreat helped Sarah feel more comfortable with the idea of being away from her family. The next year, Sarah started going to ADA Diabetes Camp EDI in Fredericktown, Mo. She went on a continuous glucose monitor last year, and her mom says she has found peace in being able to track Sarah's blood glucose levels at all times.

Bouncing tips and ideas about diabetes off other families offers relief, too. The Red Bird Family Retreat "made me feel like we weren't alone," Rekart says. Megan made new friends, and her mom is still in touch with parents she met. Their family also has started volunteering at different diabetes events. They participated in ADA's Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes in St. Louis last October, with their newly formed team, Megan Rekart's Racers. "We're raising awareness to everyone around us," Rekart says.



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