Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Teaching Kids to Live With Diabetes

Teaching Kids to Live With Diabetes

There’s a priceless chair in the craft shack at Camp Huronda, and it’s not a royal throne or a valuable Louis XVI antique.

It’s one of 10 traditional Muskoka chairs donated to the camp by a local firm, Muskoka in a Box, and there’s no other like it.

The chair, with its familiar wooden slat back and seat, is adorned with the signatures of all the kids and staff that have spent time this summer at the camp for children with Type 1 diabetes.

There’s Serena, Cassi and Braeden, and even a pawprint left by the dog Banting — named after Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin — right next to signature of his owner and camp medical director, Dr. Kusiel Perlman of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“They’ll be part of the history of Camp Huronda,” arts and crafts head Kathryn Allwright, 19, said of the names. “I think it’s good for the kids to make their mark. They’ll come back year after year and see their names. It’s their legacy and they will be remembered.”

Karenna Ottywill hadn’t had time to sign. She’d only been at camp for a couple of days and was getting used to the lay of the land. It’s her first time at Huronda, and making friends was the priority.

Diagnosed on her birthday, Feb. 21, the 10-year-old is still learning how to control her blood sugar levels.

“Every time I have to eat, I have to test. I put a strip in a glucose thing (monitor), prick my finger and then put a drop of blood on the strip.”

The glucose “thing” reads the sugar level, which should be somewhere between 5 and 7.

“It’s hard to keep them where they should be,” said Karenna, who keeps her levels with injections of insulin in her “leg, tummy or arm” three times a day.

“I don’t like the injections,” she said, adding she will learn how to use a special pump that will allow her to adjust her insulin without needles. It will be one of the things she’ll learn at Huronda, which is run by the Canadian Diabetes Association.

“I’ll learn about stuff I can do so that doesn’t make my levels go low or high.” At Huronda, it’s all about balance.

While she’s learning how to stay healthy, Karenna is also having the time of her life. She’s already brushed down Pebbles, one of the horses at camp, and loved the adventure games with new friends.

“The best thing about camp is being with other kids who have diabetes, too,” Karenna said.

Since she was diagnosed, the Grade 5 student at Owenwood Public School in Mississauga wears special bling — a necklace with a medic-alert pendant just in case she gets sick. She also showed off a bracelet her mother gave her before coming to camp, with a flower and love heart.

“My mom gave it to me to remember her.”

While Karenna is among the new kids who come to camp every summer, Justine Bayne, 12, is a veteran. This is her fifth time at Huronda.

“I keep coming back because I love seeing my camp friends,” she said. “I also learn about diabetes while having fun like a normal kid.”

Justine, who was diagnosed at 2 1/2, controls her blood sugar levels with a pump she keeps in her pocket that dispenses insulin according to her needs “and with a lot of help from my doctors.”

“The hardest part is to control what you’re doing,” she said. “My pump gives me insulin and keeps me on target.”

Like the other kids at Huronda, lessons learned at camp are not only life-changing but life-saving. In conjunction with their meds, food is the key and the intake of carbohydrates is closely regulated.

“At camp, we learn to be responsible to take care of our diabetes. There are people here to help us, but it’s our responsibility,” she explained. “When we grow up, we need to take care of ourselves.”

The camp has a team of medical professionals who are specialists in childhood diabetes on site 24/7.

For Justine, camp is also where she’s not the odd one out. It’s why she misses Huronda when she’s not there.

“People here know what you’re going through,” she said, adding that for those who don’t have diabetes, it is hard to understand. “Some people may not treat you the same even though you’re normal.”

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