Q: My son wants to attend overnight diabetes camp this summer. Our endocrinologist and diabetes educator also want him to go, and my husband is on board … but I'm not! I just can't imagine how a camp with so many kids to care for can offer the same level of attention that I do. How do I get over my fear?
A: This is a common concern we hear from parents thinking about sending their child to diabetes camp for the first time. My response is that no one can care for your child the same way you do, but we all have the same goals: making sure your child is safe and his blood sugars are managed.
How do diabetes camps do this? Each camp has its own set up. At the Barton Center for Diabetes Education where I’m the resident camp director, we have a large health care team that includes a number of registered nurses, graduate nurse interns, a full-time year-round nurse practitioner who is a diabetes educator, as well as a minimum of one endocrinologist at each camp session. Many times we have two doctors or a doctor and the nurse practitioner on site. Our three endocrinologists also rotate on-call duties for 24/7 camper assistance. Added to that, all staff members and camp counselors are trained in diabetes care, including those who sleep in the cabins with the kids. For every camper, carefully planned procedures and protocols are in place for carb counting in the cafeteria, calculating insulin doses, and regularly performing blood sugar checks.
Our camp is set up with a very low camper-to-staff ratio, meaning there are a lot of eyes on the kids at all times. We also know how to adjust to meet the changing needs of campers. For example, if we’ve had an active evening of dancing or a group sports activity, blood sugars will be checked with greater frequency throughout the night. We also respect parents’ wishes when it comes to diabetes care. If parents want their child’s blood sugar to be checked overnight, regardless of their last reading just before bed, we make sure to accommodate this.
As you look at camps, you should feel comfortable asking the director about all of these issues, from what food is served to which staff members will be in charge of your child’s day-to-day care, to what kind of medical team is in place and what a typical day at camp for your child will look like. You can ask your endocrinologist and diabetes educator for the names of camps they recommend. Also know that it’s okay to let the camp director in on your hesitations and how you’re feeling. This kind of honesty keeps the lines of communication open and allows the camp director to provide you with information that can help you feel more comfortable.
For children with diabetes, being at camp with other kids who share this common bond can be a life-changing experience. In being so active in a safe environment, they feel confident and start to see that diabetes doesn’t limit them. Older campers and camp counselors with diabetes often become like superheroes for the younger kids, and campers make some of the best friends they will ever have. These benefits mean it’s definitely worth making an effort to find a diabetes camp you feel good about.
--Mark Bissell is resident camp director of the Barton Center for Diabetes Education in North Oxford, Mass.
How Other Parents Deal
“Our son was diagnosed with type 1 last year and went to diabetes camp this past summer. It was a day program and close to home, but I was still so nervous to send him. Let me tell you, I now believe all those good things you hear about diabetes camp! It was an incredible experience for him to meet other kids with diabetes and for me to meet the other parents of these kids. He will be going back this summer. We both can’t wait!”
--Angela B., San Jose, Calif., mom of 7-year-old Matthew
Click here for information on the Lilly Camp Care Package, an initiative to provide diabetes camps across the country with educational resources to help children learn to manage their type 1 diabetes.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.
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