Care at Camp
Medical volunteers provide fun wrapped in safety at Diabetes Camp
Endless sunny days sprinting to capture a flag, the exhaustion of an afternoon spent in the pool, campfire stories, under-the-covers giggles, first crushes, tearful goodbyes—these are the memories of camp that stick with kids. But during an American Diabetes Association Diabetes Camp Program, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes to ensure the safety of every camper during all that summer fun.
Medical volunteers, who range from nursing students, dietitians, and diabetes educators to pharmacists, registered nurses, and doctors, work tirelessly for a week every summer to make camp safe and special for kids with diabetes. While the medical volunteers perform different duties during that week, they all have one goal: safety first, then fun.
All ADA camps across the country—for children with type 1 and 2 diabetes ages 4 to 17—run a little bit differently. Some are day camps, others overnight, but the basic rules remain the same. Every volunteer must have a background check and provide references. The number of medical staff depends on the number of campers for a particular year, but there is at least one licensed medical staffer for every 10 campers, says Laurie Diasio, RN, a registered nurse and health coordinator for the Triangle D Camp in northern Illinois. “If we have 120 campers, we have a minimum of 12 [medical staff], but we usually have closer to 20 or 30 for the week,” she says.
While there isn’t necessarily a medical volunteer in every cabin for all of the overnight camps, counselors and counselor assistants sleep in camper cabins. A separate medical staff cabin, which houses all of the medical supplies, is nearby. Nightly blood glucose tests performed by medical volunteers ensure the kids’ blood glucose doesn’t drop too low.
Prepare for Everything
Before camp, all volunteers participate in a daylong training. Counselors learn to check blood glucose and deliver glucagon—the rescue medication used to treat severe hypoglycemia. The full staff is trained in emergency situation response with mock scenarios, such as what to do if a camper has a hypoglycemic event.
After that, medical volunteers split off to get more specific training. They go through safety protocols, such as how to spot lows, how to adjust insulin regimens, and how to work the various pumps. “We even have pump reps come in to demonstrate and answer questions about the insulin pumps to familiarize people,” says Nicole Sheanon, MD, attending physician at Camp Korelitz in Clarksville, Ohio, and a pediatric endocrinologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Medical volunteers have to be diligent about watching campers for signs of lows, says Diasio. Each year, she tells volunteers a low-glucose story to hammer home that point: The campers were playing a game of capture the flag, and one young man was stumbling around. Diasio called him over to see what the trouble was, and he brushed it off and said he’d hurt his ankle. Unsatisfied with this response, Diasio checked his blood glucose: 32 mg/dl. Diasio treated the boy and sat with him for a half hour, until his blood glucose returned to a normal range. “We were there to help him, and he didn’t go any lower,” she says. “[Medical volunteers] need to know that maybe it’s not just the ankle, and we have resources to be able to test blood sugar and keep [kids] safe.”
Medical volunteers are also equipped to deal with issues unrelated to diabetes, such as allergies, the cuts and scrapes that come with play, and even emotional issues that crop up, such as homesickness. “We’ve had social workers that volunteer for the week that kind of help us with the homesick kids or those that are just having a rough time,” says Diasio.
If you ask the kids about their favorite part of camp, you’ll get a variety of responses: the zip line, the high-ropes course, even the pizza. But there are also comments about the value of the relationships they’ve forged. “I have a lot of kids who say, ‘seeing my best friend,’ ” says Kara Duwe, who volunteers with the medical staff at Camp Colorado in Woodland Park.
This is a feeling that crosses generations, as Duwe, Sheanon, and Diasio can attest. All three were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age and either attended camp as children and continued to volunteer as counselors and medical staff or jumped in as a medical volunteer in adulthood, like Diasio, whose 12-year-old son with type 1, Nick, attends camp every summer.
For Stacey Huber, RN, MSNed, a medical volunteer at Camp Korelitz in Clarksville, Ohio, and a diabetes nurse educator at West Chester Hospital in West Chester, Ohio, camp was a place to build relationships. “Having a support system outside of my everyday support system is nice,” she says.
There is a magic to camp, but the recipe is simple. “I think it makes [diabetes] seem normal,” says Huber. “All of the diabetes care that you do every day to keep yourself healthy—when you don’t feel normal as a child—I think [camp] just makes it feel normal.”
Take Action for Camp
Find a Camp
Do you have a child with diabetes? Find a camp in your area at diabetes.org/findacamp.
Camp is made possible through your generosity. Help out here: diabetes.org/campdonations.