Tech Helps Kids Make the Most of Diabetes Camp
“I saw my very first insulin pump at camp,” says Erin Callahan. When she attended Camp Triangle D in the early ’90s, the technology was still fairly new, and not everyone understood the best practices for handling the device. “There was one kid who walked into the dining hall one day, and he was swinging it around by the tubing,” she says. “I remember the medical staff nearly losing their minds.”
Callahan now works for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) as the central territory director of Youth and Family Initiatives, and she’s seen a lot of changes over the years. Last year, 73 percent of kids attending ADA camps used insulin pumps. In the past decade, an increasing number of children have begun relying on continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). And in 2016, the Food and Drug Administration approved Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G insulin pump, the first hybrid closed-loop system. With those advances—and updates releasing regularly—keeping up with new technology is crucial for those overseeing diabetes camps.
“It’s changing every day,” says Carla Cox, PhD, RD, CDE, medical director for ADA Camp Colorado. She remembers backpacking with kids during her early years as a coordinator. “We stopped every half hour.” As more kids embrace CGMs, campers can keep an eye on their levels in real time and prevent lows without pausing. “That’s the beauty of technology. It’s so much easier to do things outdoors.”
As part of the National Medical Camp Committee, Cox helped create a set of guidelines outlining the best use of diabetes technology at summer camps. It’s updated regularly as new devices become available. “Anybody working with children at camp can pull up these quick tips,” Cox says. She’s also working on a series of online classes that provide basic information on diabetes and diabetes devices. Beginning in March, it’s accessible to anyone, including counselors at non-diabetes camps.
Still, incorporating technology presents challenges. Camp is traditionally seen as an opportunity to escape the modern world and reconnect with nature. In the past, cell phones weren’t allowed for this very reason. But as some diabetes devices work in conjunction with smartphones and apps, these rules are being re-evaluated. “What we can’t allow is [campers] talking to their parents all the time—that’s disruptive,” Cox says.
Spending time outdoors is important, but one of the biggest benefits campers gain from ADA camps is seeing how other kids use devices that can sometimes seem intimidating. Kruz Kruszka was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2013 and attended Camp Midicha in Fenton, Michigan, that same year. “Seeing the different pumps in action helped me choose which one was best for me,” says Kruz, now 10. “My friends there would use them every day.”
Kruz now relies on an insulin pump as he plays basketball, baseball, golf, and hockey. And just like Callahan, he plans to one day work with the camp that’s made such an impact on his life. “It’s one of the weeks you most look forward to during the year,” he says. “It’s something that’s special.”
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ADA Camps and the advancement of technology practices is funded by Novo Nordisk, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, and Lilly Diabetes.