Summer - a time for fun in the sun, backyard barbecues, vacations, lazy afternoons at the beach; and for many kids, going away to an overnight summer camp. When I was young, I wanted so badly to go to summer camp. I was able to go once with a Girl Scout troop, and I remember how excited I was to meet new friends and learn new skills, to play games, roast S’mores, go swimming, canoeing, hiking, and so much more. Even though it was only a few days of the summer, it was the highlight of that year for me.
However for many kids, summer camp is a dream that might not become a reality due to the limitations of chronic disease, such as Type 1 Diabetes. A partnership between the Wisconsin Lions Foundation and the American Diabetes Association has created a summer camp for kids with Type 1 Diabetes at Camp Lakota at Wisconsin Lions Camp. For one week out of the year, children with Type 1 diabetes are able to go to camp, and be “normal” like other kids their age. All of the campers there, ages ranging from 10-16 years, have Type 1 Diabetes. They all share similar struggles with their disease. If it were not for the 24/7 medical expertise that the ADA provides through medical staff and volunteers, this camp could not happen, and these campers would not have this amazing opportunity to bond with kids just like them and develop a support network that lasts a lifetime.
This camp and the medical team that staffs it is all about keeping the campers' diabetes controlled and keeping them safe, while they get to just be kids having fun at camp. The campers all check their blood sugars at the same four times every day, and at other times if needed. They also dose their insulin at similar times, all while experiencing the fun that camp has to offer. It is important for these kids to have a great time and not to worry as much about their diabetes care, but it is also important for their parents to know that their child is safe away from home. For one week out of the year these parents do not have to worry about their child's diabetes and they can rest easy knowing everything will be taken care of for them. They know that there is a team of medical staff and volunteers providing 24-hour care throughout the camper’s entire stay, allowing them the summer camp experience while also carefully managing their diabetes.
There are two diabetes camp weeks at Camp Lakota at Wisconsin Lions Camp, and I have the privilege of being the lead doctor during the second week of camp. This is hardly vacation for me, but it is well worth the prep time (including monthly planning conference call meetings 10 months out of the year) and time away from my family to give 150 kids during my camp week this awesome opportunity. Of course, despite all the hard work, I enjoy my time at camp too. I have many close "camp friends" who I have known since I started volunteering over 10 years ago, and each summer I look forward to catching up with them and working together during the week of camp.
Together, the medical staff and volunteers give these kids a week of memories that last a lifetime. If you are interested in volunteering at camp or looking for camp information to provide to a child who has Type 1 Diabetes, please don’t hesitate to contact the American Diabetes Association at Diabetes.org or go directly to Find a Camp to locate a Diabetes Camp near you!