Camp Opens Door to Freedom

“Am I going to die?” was the first question 9-year-old Anna asked after being rushed from her pediatrician’s office to the hospital.

Her parents had noticed she had been eating and drinking excessive amounts.

“She would eat and be hungry, eat and be hungry,” her mother, Donna, recalls.

Once at the hospital, doctors confirmed what they feared. Anna had Type 1 diabetes, more commonly known as juvenile diabetes.

With Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone that is necessary to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.

Cathy Hartmann, Director of the American Diabetes Association—a United Way supported agency—explains that insulin is vital to life. “If you think about a lock and key, or a car and gas… You need it. Without it, it’s catastrophic.”

Anna is your typical 11-year-old. One would never guess behind her huge grin is a young girl who must administer four self-injections daily, wear an insulin pump 24/7 and be wary of what she eats.

Thinking back to that day in the doctor’s office, Donna says it was tough.

“We both cried,” Donna recalled. “She didn’t really comprehend it. In the hospital they really focused on ‘You’re not sick, you can do anything you want, you’re going to live a long life.’ But that really doesn’t take away some of the other questions like, ‘Well then if I’m not sick, then why do I have to do this? And why am I different from everybody?’”

What helped Anna understand diabetes was Camp EDI, a summer camp offered by the American Diabetes Association that focuses on the three cornerstones of a healthy, active lifestyle: exercise, diet and insulin.

Cathy believes that since its conception, EDI has proved to be nothing short of life-changing. “We established a relationship with United Way of Greater St. Louis in 1955, and one of our primary objectives was to offer camp to those with diabetes. It instills diabetes independence in youth and opens the door to freedom. It’s foundational.”

Donna heard about EDI from other parents with diabetic children. At first, Anna was reluctant about the idea of attending a week-long camp, but once enrolled, her excitement began to grow.

Joined by 150 other children with diabetes participating in everything from swimming, hiking and tie-dying to talent shows, dance parties and games, Anna no longer felt so alone. In addition to the extensive list of activities offered at EDI, the children also received a dose of diabetes education that taught them about cause and effect, how to properly use a syringe and tips to reduce the pain.

When Anna returned from camp, Donna noticed a difference. “She was more comfortable with the disease. I think realizing that there are so many other kids out there that have to deal with the same thing every day makes a world of difference,” Donna said.

A 6th grader and St. Charles resident, Anna has a love for horseback riding, cheerleading and her dog Dudley who “looks like a sausage with sauerkraut.”

“[Children with Type 1 diabetes] can do anything. They don’t need to be treated differently,” Donna said with a smile. “Just treat them like people.”

As far as the future goes for this lively middle schooler, Anna seems to have it all figured out. She plans to become a veterinarian and has already chosen her college. But in the meantime, Anna is looking forward to returning to Camp EDI this summer with many of the friends she made during last year’s session.

About the American Diabetes Association

The American Diabetes Association leads the fight against the deadly consequences of diabetes and fights for those affected by it. They fund research to prevent, cure and manage diabetes, deliver services to hundreds of communities, provide objective and credible information, and give a voice to those denied their rights because of diabetes. The American Diabetes Association has been a United Way funded agency since 1955.