A Camper With Diabetes…

Photos Courtesy of Central Ohio Diabetes Association

Photos Courtesy of Central Ohio Diabetes Association

In 1964, five central-Ohio physicians collaborated in educating the community due to the increasing number of diabetic patients in their care. The doctors created the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, a nonprofit agency that continues to offer education and resources to people with diabetes in and around Columbus, Ohio. Three years later, in 1967, these same physicians discovered their pediatric diabetic patients were being refused access to summer camp, solely based on their Type 1 diabetes.

Following a visit to Camp Ho Mita Koda in Newbury, Ohio, the first and oldest diabetes camp in the United States, these doctors decided to replicate the camp’s routines for their own patients.  In 1968, they held to their vision and created Camp Spill-A-Little, housed at the Judson Hills campgrounds in Loudonville, Ohio. Staffed by the campers’ older siblings and their friends, Camp Spill-A-Little (named for the body’s reaction of “spilling” ketones into urine when blood glucose levels run higher than average) hosted 37 campers over the course of one week. Following the death of Dr. George Hamwi, one of the founders of both the association and the camp, Spill-A-Little was renamed Camp Hamwi. The camp expanded to two weeks in 1969, and to three weeks in the late 1970s. Ever-increasing attendance in 1983 required a larger space, so the camp moved to its present location at Camp Mohaven in Danville, Ohio.

Currently, Camp Hamwi hosts two weeks of campers: a junior week (ages 7 to 12) and a senior week (ages 13 to 17). The camp provides all diabetes-related supplies through donations. While the one-week supply cost per camper averages $1,751, the cost for parents is $425, and scholarships are available. The majority of Hamwi staff is homegrown, rising from the ranks of camper, counselor-in-training, counselor, to program staff. In July, 90 percent of the senior-week counseling staff was camp alumni or counselors with at least three years’ experience.

Hamwi staff members believe diabetes should not preclude a child from the camp experience. If anything, the autonomy and responsibility required for youth with diabetes to thrive in a camp setting helps foster independence and self-awareness in coping with the disease in daily life. As a camp director, medical director, kitchen or dietary staff member, counseling or support staff, each person is a conduit for the camper to have a phenomenal experience, despite his or her chronic condition.   

Best Practices For Camp Staff

If you are the director of a camp for diabetic children or are running a camp with a diabetic child, consider the following advice. In advance of camp, invite parents and campers to compile information for a unique diabetes profile to share with pertinent staff. Include:

▪ Insulin dosages and carbohydrate-to-insulin ratios

▪ Camper behavioral responses to both hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)

▪ Preferred treatments to specific blood-sugar readings

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