Type I Diabetes & Sweeney
What is Type I Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disorder which impairs the body's ability to convert food into energy. Normally, as food is digested, it is converted into glucose - a type of sugar - that is transported to cells throughout the body. There, it is "burned" or used as an energy source. Insulin, a chemical produced by "beta cells" within the pancreas, provides the chemical transportation system for glucose. Without it, the energy from food cannot be used.
There are two kind of diabetes. Type II diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes, usually occurs in mid-life or later. However, more and more children and youth are being diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Children with Type II diabetes are welcome at Camp Sweeney, too. Type II has a variety of causes, all of which result in some degree of impairment of the body's ability to produce insulin. Although some Type II diabetics require insulin therapy, many can manage their disorder through diet and exercise.
Type I diabetes is a totally different disorder and much more difficult to control. Although its exact cause remains unknown, its effects are clearly understood. It begins when the body suddenly begins to destroy its own beta cells, perhaps as a reaction to a virus. Once this mysterious process begins, it can continue until virtually all of the body's insulin-producing cells are destroyed. Once gone, they are never replaced.
The onset of Type I diabetes is sudden and severe. Within a week or two, its victims lose weight and become dangerously dehydrated. Without prompt medical intervention, they may experience crippling damage to vital organs, including the brain. The most serious cases result in death.
Once they have overcome the initial crisis, Type I diabetics learn to manage their disorder by regularly administering synthetic insulin and by balancing their physical activities with a carefully prescribed diet. Blood sugar levels must be monitored five to seven times daily to closely correlate all three elements. Essentially, the mind now must perform what the body used to do on its own, by providing the exact amount of insulin necessary to accommodate food and activity levels.
It's a daunting task, one that requires a clear understanding of the mechanics of diabetes, a well-developed sense of discipline, and a high level of commitment. Managing diabetes can be particularly difficult for children, who may not understand how or why they have suddenly become so different from their friends and classmates. The temptation simply to ignore the disorder may be great. Although every child wants to be thought of as special, none wishes to be considered different.
Denial may be accompanied by anger and fear, emotions that are often reinforced unintentionally by families of children with diabetes. Defensive barriers may go up, disguised as behavioral problems, as children try to convince themselves and others that they really are normal. All of these reactions become obstacles to the successful management of diabetes.
Unfortunately, the consequences of such responses may not be evident until years later. Resilient young bodies can often endure youthful inattentiveness without apparent consequence, but invisible harm is being done. In the span of 25 to 30 years, crippling and irreversible damage can occur, including blindness, circulatory inadequacies, even death.
Unlike most camps for young diabetics, Camp Sweeney offers children much more than just supervised recreational experiences. Young diabetics learn that their disorder does not have to control their lives. They learn that with the help of friends, family members, counselors, and medical support staff, they can master the challenges that face them, and live full, normal lives.
Each 20-day session at Camp Sweeney is a carefully structured, intensive program designed to overcome psychological barriers, train young minds to deal with reality, and teach a set of techniques for the successful management of diabetes. Campers leave with a renewed sense of strength, self-worth, and determination, secure in the knowledge that they have the inner resources they need to live life to the fullest.
Challenges and Rewards
At the beginning of one of Camp Sweeney's three summer sessions, many of the campers are returning to familiar territory. Almost three out of four have been there before.
For those who haven't, the first 48 hours can be a little tough. Removed from their familiar surroundings and the nagging reminders that they are "different," they find themselves in a world where they're not that different from anybody else. In fact, everybody is here for the same reason: to learn more about living with diabetes.
Within a couple of days, a lifetime's worth of psychological defenses come down, as children acknowledge the challenges their disorder confronts them with. It's an emotional experience for many. For the first time, they are coming face to face with who they really are.
They're also learning that they're not alone.
Every four campers have their own counselor, supported by a staff of medical students, resident physicians, attending physicians, dietitians, and a plethora of camp staff. A fully equipped hospital is located on the camp grounds to meet the daily medical needs of the children and to handle medical emergencies should they arise. There are also complete blood testing stations and the necessary medical supplies to provide immediate care at each camp activity site. These stations are connected directly to our onsite hospital and medical team who provide a 2 minute response time to any location at camp.