Hi fiends! I just got back from a week of summer camp at Camp Sealth on Vashon Island. It was a whirlwind week of very long days, but the overall experience was so rewarding. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is always looking for more volunteers, so if you’re interested in gaining experience working with kids, especially kids with type 1 diabetes (T1DM), consider volunteering next year!
Fun fact: I actually was a camper at Camp Sealth 20 years ago during our brief stint in Seattle…it was great to be back on the other side of things. I don’t remember a whole lot from my time at camp when I was a child, but I found myself singing along to a few camp songs last week. Pretty crazy – I must have subconsciously stored those songs somewhere in this brain of mine!
The ADA and Camp Sealth partner to provide the support, planning, and supplies needed to help 60+ kids with T1DM stay overnight for a week. Sealth is the only camp in the country to integrate kids with T1DM and non-diabetic campers so that the kids with T1DM can focus on just being campers, and campers without T1DM can learn more about T1DM. Win-win!
I’ve had a particular interest in T1DM since we learned more details about the etiology of the disease in my first quarter of graduate school. For those of you unfamiliar with T1DM, it’s an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks and destroys the beta cells in the pancreas. The beta cells are responsible for producing and secreting insulin, a hormone that acts like the body’s “key” to unlocking cells so glucose can enter. Without insulin, the body continues to signal, “hey! we need glucose!” even though there’s already glucose available in the blood. Consequently, the body will continue to uncontrollably secret glucose into the blood, raising blood sugar levels (also know as hyperglycemia or “high blood sugar”).
Low blood sugar is when the amount of glucose in the blood falls below an ideal range. It’s like a car that’s driving on fumes…you don’t want to reach the point of running out of gas. Hypoglycemia (“low blood sugar”) is dangerous, and even fatal, if not treated properly.
It was a humbling experience to observe the daily habits of the campers with T1DM. Each one of them would patiently wait in line every morning, evening, and before every meal and snack to test their blood sugar levels. From there, they would head to the nutrition booth so the nutritionists could carb count for them (it was important to anticipate how many carbohydrates the campers were expecting to eat in order to calculate their insulin boluses.)
After receiving their insulin, the campers could resume their days. Pricking their fingers, administering insulin via their pump or syringes, and overcoming physical symptoms associated with low and high blood sugar levels were – and are – an everyday part of the campers’ lives. It was impossible not to put my own life into perspective after watching their bravery and positive attitudes.
There were occasions when I had to pull over with a camper to help them treat a “low”. I woke campers up multiple times during the night to test, and retest, their blood sugar levels. I held their little heads as they drank high protein, high carbohydrate supplements while half asleep. From a personal perspective, these moments were the most rewarding at camp because I felt like I was contributing to their safety and wellbeing in a way I had yet to experience.
One of the best parts of camp was connecting with other providers (nurses, MD’s, dietitians, and medical assistants) who all volunteered their time to support the campers. I met some really great people that I hope will continue to stay in my life as friends.
My plan is to return to camp for a few days next year, and I hope to see some of you there! For more information you can visit this site.