From Camper to Camp Doc
Nicole Sheanon, MD, revisits her Diabetes Camp days by serving as a camp's pediatric endocrinologist
When she was 10 years old, Nicole Sheanon was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. One month later, her parents dropped her off crying at Camp Korelitz in Clarksville, Ohio. “I very much did not want to go,” says Sheanon. But when her parents picked her up at the end of the week? She didn’t want to leave.
“Camp, for me, let me know that I was not the only one out there,” she says. And it provided her with hope that she could live a normal life with diabetes. “I would say 96 percent of our counseling staff has diabetes, so the kids get to see some older role models,” she says. “And I think, for me, that was a huge part of it.”
Now 36, Sheanon says she’s gone to camp 20 out of the 25 years she’s had diabetes—even throughout medical school—either as a camper or a volunteer. And as the attending physician at camp, Sheanon puts her pediatric endocrinology expertise to good use. Her hope is “for the kids to have the same experience I did when I was little and realize that diabetes is something you can live with,” she says.
Another important aspect of camp? Giving families a break. One year, a boy at camp had a seizure from hypoglycemia. While he was fine, it was a frightening episode, and Sheanon remembers calling his mom to let her know what happened. “What was amazing to me was that even though [her son had a seizure], she felt safe with him at camp and knew that we were going to take care of him,” she says.
That resonated with her as she thought about the impact camp has on families, including her own mother. For the week she attended camp, her mom didn’t have to worry about her well-being. “She knew that I was safe and lots of people who knew what they were doing were watching me,” she says. “It was really a week where she was worry free.”
While parents are able to relax during that time, the campers are creating unique bonds that last a lifetime. “I think it’s just remarkable,” Sheanon says. “They really create a network for themselves, and as they get older, they have this group of friends with diabetes that they can reach out to.”