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OPINION: Saving Camp Red Fox

Will Harrison, left, (wearing ball cap), works with younger children as they pay gaga ball at Camp Red Fox for children with diabetes in Canoe Cove in this Guardian file photo. Harrison attended the diabetes camp for five years and later worked as a counsellor. Diabetes Canada has announced it is closing diabetes camps in P.E.I. and New Brunswick and merging them with the camp in Nova Scotia. 

(Guardian File Photo)
Will Harrison, left, (wearing ball cap), works with younger children as they pay gaga ball at Camp Red Fox for children with diabetes in Canoe Cove in this Guardian file photo. Harrison attended the diabetes camp for five years and later worked as a counsellor. Diabetes Canada has announced it is closing diabetes camps in P.E.I. and New Brunswick and merging them with the camp in Nova Scotia. (Guardian File Photo) - The Guardian

Kids who attend learn to take responsibility for own disease; results in longer, healthier life

BY PATTI DEVINE

GUEST OPINION

Diabetes camp was a game changer in our son’s life.

It was Canada Day 2008. We were jammed in among the crowd at Victoria Park to watch the fireworks. My son was desperately seeking a bathroom – he needed to pee. He had been excessively thirsty for the last few weeks as well. Something was wrong. I knew it in my gut.

Two days later, we were rushing our child to the pediatric unit at the QEH, told by his doctor to not even stop at Emergency. The reaction from the medical team was swift. Our son had a blood glucose level of +30; the normal range in a healthy person is between 4 and 7. Will was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. No family history of diabetes; an otherwise healthy, active little boy. His life and ours changed forever.

This life-threatening chronic illness strikes out of the blue; the pancreas stops producing insulin - which, like oxygen, we need to live. The cause is unknown and has nothing to do with eating too much sugar. Suddenly an otherwise healthy kid is saddled with having to juggle blood sugar levels, carbohydrate intake and insulin injections 24/7 - just to stay alive - and this juggling act goes on for the rest of his or her life.

Type 1 is on the rise yet many kids are isolated; our son was the only boy in his school, on the hockey team and soccer team, who had to worry about stopping everything to prick his finger to test his blood sugar, have a snack to keep his blood sugar elevated, or inject insulin. That can be tough for anyone but imagine what that's like for a child of 8.

Imagine what it would be like to suddenly not be the only kid who has to do that, to be among a whole slew of kids who have the same issues. Suddenly, it's not about the diabetes, it's being like everyone else and the fun of summer camp in a safe environment. A full medical team attends Diabetes Camp to help teach the 50+ kids how to better manage their diabetes, and to keep them safe, especially overnight when the danger of diabetes really kicks in.

The image of our son convulsing on his bedroom floor the first time he had a seizure from a low blood sugar is forever etched in my memory. It was early morning. I was in the kitchen getting breakfast. I heard a crash upstairs. I called out. No answer. I ran up the stairs and screamed. Will had collapsed on the floor of his room; he was in seizure. My husband grabbed the Glucagon, which unlike an Epi-pen, has to be mixed and drawn up into a syringe, then injected. I was calling 911. The paramedics arrived and got Will to the hospital.

Fortunately, Will experienced this low blood sugar when he got up at 7 a.m.; had his blood glucose level dipped below two during the night when we were all sleeping, we may have lost our precious son. When the blood sugar goes too high or low, diabetic coma and death are real consequences.

Will reaped the benefits of Camp Red Fox for eight years. He made a pile of friends and learned to better manage his diabetes. Kids who attend Camp Red Fox learn to take responsibility for their own disease and that results in a longer, healthier life.

Sadly, many other Island kids may no longer have that opportunity. Diabetes Canada will not open Camp Red Fox this summer. Instead, kids will have to go to a camp in Nova Scotia to enjoy that 5-day reprieve. Our son doesn’t think many newly diagnosed P.E.I. kids will go. Being so far from home may be just one more hurdle to get over along with all the other adjustments a Type 1 diagnosis brings. And the newly diagnosed kids need it perhaps the most.

Take a moment please to sign the Save Camp Red Fox petition at www.thepetionsite.com.

You may make a difference and allow Type 1 kids from P.E.I. to still enjoy five precious days where they are just like everyone else.

- Patti Devine, Charlottetown, has a son with diabetes; and project director, Island Advance, at the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce

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