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Marguerite McNeal/MEDILL

The Care to Cure brunch Sunday raised money to send children to diabetes camp and increase awareness about Type 1. Roberto Garza, lineman for the Chicago Bears, offered words of encouragement for children with the disease.

Bonfires and insulin therapy: Diabetes camps help kids with Type 1

by Marguerite McNeal
March 06, 2012


Marguerite McNeal/MEDILL

Children at the fundraiser color signs and play games. This year 470 children will attend diabetes summer camps in Illinois.

Katie Ervin, 14, loves summer camp. She swims, makes arts and crafts projects, and like all of her fellow campers with Type 1 diabetes, checks her blood sugar and gives herself insulin through her pump.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Chicagoan Ervin, who will return to diabetes camp for her sixth year this summer.

The American Diabetes Association sponsors five camps across Illinois each summer, with names like “Camp Confidence,” “Camp Discovery” and “Camp Can-Do.”

Type 1 diabetes, also referred to as juvenile diabetes, affects 3 million Americans. It occurs when a patient's pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that converts food to energy. People with Type 1 have to take shots of insulin and check their blood sugar levels by pricking their finger five to 10 times a day.

“Children with Type 1 diabetes often feel like nobody understands what it’s like to live with the disease,” said Roberto Garza, a lineman for the Chicago Bears and the guest speaker at a fundraising auction held Sunday by the American Diabetes Association. The event raised awareness and money to send more children to camps.

Camp attendance can cost as much as $1,000 and the event raised money for scholarships.

Guests bid on auction items, such as a “meet and greet” with rock star Bret Michaels or tickets to Chicago Bears Training Camp in Bourbonnais. They could also sponsor camp activities, for example, paying $1,000 to send 250 campers bowling.

The camps encourage children to share strategies for coping with diabetes and learn about their day-to-day triumphs and challenges, said Garza, whose grandfather has diabetes.

“I always forget that Jay Cutler has diabetes,” he said. “You wouldn’t think a star athlete has to deal with something like that, but he is always checking his blood before the game, during halftime and after the game to compete at that high level.”

Garza told children with Type 1 that anything is possible. “To be successful you need a team around you, and that’s what summer camps provide.” More than 470 children ages 4 to 18 will attend camp this summer. All camp sessions last a week, and children under 9 go to day camp while older kids stay overnight.

Although Ervin has lived with diabetes for six years, she said she learns something new each summer from fellow campers and the daily 45-minute diabetes education classes.

“You’re not alone. There are other people like you who you can talk to, who can help you lead a healthy life,” Garza told children at the event.