Kids with Diabetes Find New Normal at Summer Camp

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It sounds like any summer camp: kids screaming, laughing and splashing… But this one - in Newbury, Ohio - is a bit different. It’s called Camp Ho Mita Koda – that’s a Native American name which means “Welcome My Friend.”

Victoria: “We love that there are all sorts of varieties of people who have diabetes and it feels better to be one in a million than one with no other people.”

That’s one of this summer’s campers, ten-year-old Victoria MacGregor.

This year marks the camp’s 80th anniversary. When Dr. Henry Johns of the Cleveland Clinic founded it, the treatment for diabetes was just evolving. Johns wanted to give parents a break from their worries and give children with diabetes a chance to have some fun. Since then, treatments have made leaps and bounds. Many kids with diabetes can live relatively normal lives.

Swim Instructor: "Ready! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8! Turn! 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8!"

Despite fun activities like synchronized swimming or horseback riding - the realities of diabetes are never far away. Depending on the type of diabetes a person has, either the body doesn't produce any or enough insulin on its own or the insulin their body makes is defective.

Many children with diabetes require medication. Seven-year-old Sarah Schmoll explains some options.

Sarah: "You can use a pump or a shot. A shot is simple because you put insulin in it. You just put insulin in it and you stick it in your stomach, your arm, your leg, your bottom. It sometimes hurts, because that's why I moved to pump."

Pumps are one of the technological advances that give kids with diabetes more freedom. They're worn on the body and help automatically regulate insulin. Attached to the belt and about the size of a pager, a small tube from the pump carries insulin to an infusion site - typically around the stomach - where a small, pliable plastic needle delivers the insulin into the muscle tissue. The infusion site is changed every few days to avoid infection.

Camp Ho Mita Koda has 64 campers at any given time during the summer. Each child seems to possess an amazing knowledge about his or her own condition. They talk about how swings in insulin levels can make them feel: nauseous, jittery or confused. They know all the latest cutting edge treatments.

Camp Director Susan Woodford has been working at summer camps for 20 years. She notices a big difference between other campers and the kids at Ho Mita Koda.

Woodford: "They are probably more mature. They have to manage their diabetes from day one. Some of them whether it's four year old or 15 years old they have to monitor that daily. I would say that they have to grow up pretty quickly."

A doctor, nurse and nursing students are on the grounds at all times. And counselors regiment all the kids' treatments. After the morning activities and before lunch, all campers check their sugar levels. Ten-year-old Jonathan Rybka walks me through the process.

Jonathan: "Right now I'm testing and just got the blood and so it’s reading…59."

Counselor: "59. Alright. Take three tabs."

Jonathan's sugar was low, so his counselor had him take glucose tabs. Counselors also make sure the kids are eating the right things. Monitoring carbs is essential for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

At any other place the frequent monitoring and diet discipline might stand out and make these children feel different, but the great thing about Camp Ho Mita Koda is taking care of diabetes here is no big deal. Counselor in training, Andrew Gaunter:

Andrew: "From my perspective, everybody's normal here. Everybody feels normal. For the people that don't have diabetes, it's almost like they're different here."

Kids sing: "I like to C, I like to C, I like to C-A-M-P at H-M-K! And it’s very C-O-O-L swimming in the P-O-O-L. That’s why I like to be at H-M-K!”

Caitlin Johnson, 90.3.

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