No kid should have to grow up without life’s basic necessities—food, water, clothes, shelter and access to education.
And no kid should grow up with diabetes either. But they do!
Diabetes can make warriors out of 7 and 8 year olds, medical experts out of 9 and 10 year olds and little adults out of 11 and 12 year olds. For if there is anything I’ve overheard in my time so far as the CEO of the American Diabetes Association, it is that no one gets a vacation from diabetes. It is a ruthless disease that begs for attention every hour of every single day of a person’s life.
But, kids need vacations. They need joy. They need time for carefree play. And for these reasons and many more, I am so glad that one of the bedrock programs of the Association are summer camps for kids living with diabetes.
Our Diabetes Camps date all the way back to 1949, when we sponsored Camp Seale Harris in Alabama. The program grew from there! This year, the American Diabetes Association will host almost 6,000 children with diabetes at 51 sessions of camps in 24 states.
I was so glad that my first month of work included a visit to one of these camps, Camp Freedom in Pennsylvania about an hour outside of Philadelphia.
My wife, Elizabeth and I spent the day at camp playing games, singing camp songs and sharing the evening meal with the campers.
My first impression of the camp was that it’s just like any other summer camp for kids. There was a pool, cabins and soccer matches. Kids were laughing, having fun with their friends and wondering what the next activity coming up was.
But then as we looked closer, what we saw was that this camp was a little bit different. We learned about the scheduled visits to the “Med Shed” and the doctors who carefully attended to the needs of each child. We saw charts on the wall in the Med Shed of what kids in what cabin had insulin pumps and their schedule for monitoring them.
In the Med Shed, I was able chat with Tyler and learned about how much he’d learned over the course of the week about his insulin pump and changing it. He told me, “I’m a pro now.” I asked, “How many times have you done this?” He told me it was the 3rd time. Camp Freedom was empowering him with the new skills of managing and changing his pump as he lived with diabetes.
When he wondered who I was with all my questions, I told him that I was the new CEO of the American Diabetes Association and this was his reaction.
Most of all, I heard what a great family Camp Freedom became to these kids. It’s where they meet some of their closest friends, their support group for life.
“Here,” one girl told me, “I’ve met friends just like me. And I’m so happy.”
While there’s hardship for kids living with diabetes, often being the only kid in their class or in their school who regularly must visit the nurse’s office or be away for doctor’s appointments—moments in the summer at camps like these become a bright spots of normality.
Camp helps these precious kids feel not so alone. And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?