At age 4, type 1 diabetes became an everyday part of life for Stella Zippay. She quickly learned how to do finger pricks and monitor glucose levels, but dealing with the stares and questions from peers can still be hard to manage. When she arrives at Akron Children’s Diabetes Camp, she doesn’t have to worry what others think because she’s just like everyone else – a kid who is ready for fun and also happens to have diabetes.
Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in school-aged children, but the daily complexities that come with it like managing insulin, diet and blood sugar levels can make a child feel different from their peers. When Stella’s mom learned about the Diabetes Camp, she saw it as a place where Stella wouldn’t have to explain herself and she could just be a kid.
“I think growing up with a life-threatening disease forces you to mature quicker than most,” said Andrea Zippay, Stella’s mom. “Stella learned how to count carbs, prick her finger and give herself medicine before most kids learn how to tie their own shoes. She just knows these are things she has to do to survive.”
Teaching kids how to accept and manage the disease on their own is part of the lessons learned at the Diabetes Camp but, if you ask Stella, camp is really all about the fun.
“The best part of camp is definitely meeting other kids,” said Stella. “When I’m there, I’m just like everyone else instead of being the only one with a disease. I also love all the activities we get to do like jousting, playing on the floating dock and the cabin vs. cabin fun.”
Led by Akron Children’s endocrinology staff, camp also gives kids time to share fears and frustrations, celebrate milestones and offer encouragement and advice.
“When I was little, I would just look at my Dex (a small, wearable device that monitors glucose levels) every single second because I worried about my numbers,” said Stella. “At camp, the counselors and the kids talk about the importance of listening to the clues our body gives us like blurry vision or dizziness. Now I know how to feel when my numbers are too high or low so, even if I don’t have my device with me, I know what to do to get back on track.”
Diabetes Camp is not only a break away for the kids, but also the parents.
“I definitely had reservations about being away from Stella for a week, but when I thought about who – besides me – I could trust to take care of Stella, the only people I could think of were her doctors and they help run the camp,” said Andrea. “Stella loves camp and we’ve found that it’s a welcomed break for our family, too… It provides us with a kind of respite care where we can breathe a little easier and not worry about her numbers all day.”
At the end of camp, the hope is kids like Stella gain confidence in managing the disease.
“I think the goal of everything we do is to get Stella comfortable with functioning without us,” said Andrea. “I don’t want to be a chaperone her whole life, so getting her involved in activities and camps helps her prove to herself that she can do this on her own.”