Fifteen-year-old Megan Rekart can’t stop smiling whenever she’s talking about her week at summer camp — the time she almost tipped her canoe; how it was so hot when she went kayaking that she had to keep splashing herself to stay cool; how great it was to win the scavenger hunt-type game against the counselors; how fast she climbed a tree that was at least 20 feet tall, inspite of being afraid of heights; what it felt like climbing the giant inflatable iceberg and going for hikes in the woods . . .
Megan’s mom, Nicole, listens with a smile on her face, too, happy that her daughter is getting to experience these kinds of activities, because for Megan they come with far more caution.
“She probably wouldn’t be allowed to do all of this at a regular summer camp,” said Nicole Rekart, Union. “They would be too intimitated by her diabetes.”
A Type 1 diabetic, Megan was diagnosed at age 13. The camp she attends is the American Diabetes Association’s EDI (Exercise, Diet and Insulin) Camp in Fredericktown.
The camp is run by pediatric endocrinologists, nurses, dietitians and counselors, who, if they aren’t diabetics themselves, have first-hand familiarity with the disease, said Nicole.
As a group the campers take breaks to check their blood sugars, and if anyone has a problem, the doctors and nurses on hand know what to do.
“There are times when the campers will have severe highs and lows because of all the physical activity,” said Megan, noting some campers’ blood sugar at times was as high as 300 and 400.
In addition to traditional summer camp activities, EDI campers participate in daily “wellness classes” to learn more about diabetes.
“Campers learn diabetes self-management skills and the importance of counting carbohydrates, diet and exercise,” the ADA website notes. “They also learn to be more independent in their diabetes management while at camp.”
What Is Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the body quits producing insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. People who have the disorder have to be knowledgeable about how much sugar and starch are in the foods they eat because they need to be balanced with the right amount of insulin.
If the amount of sugar in the blood is too high or too low, it can become life-threatening.
Megan is the first member of their family to have Type 1 diabetes, so her parents didn’t recognize the symptoms — extreme thirst, increased urination, dry and itchy skin, extreme hunger, fatigue and blurred vision.
Megan’s symptoms came on fairly suddenly and were pronounced, Nicole told The Missourian back in March 2011 for a feature story on the American Diabetes Association’s Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes.
In addition to going to the bathroom extremely often and eating the family “out of house and home,” Megan was having serious mood swings where she would snap easily, Nicole recalled.
Then one day the youth pastor at the family’s church called because he was concerned. Megan, who was always active in the group, “wasn’t herself . . . She wasn’t doing her usual things.”
Because Megan was 13, Nicole was thinking her behavior could be the result of puberty and maybe a yeast or bladder infection too. She took her to the doctor’s office, where a urinalysis was followed by blood work, and then the frightening results 30 minutes later.
It wasn’t just that Megan had Type 1 diabetes, but she needed to get to St. Louis Children’s Hospital immediately because her numbers were “borderline DKA” (diabetic ketoacidosis).
“It was a nightmare to get that call,” Nicole Rekart recalled. “Her blood sugar was 411 (80 to 150 is normal) and by the time we got her to the hospital it was over 700, and we were there within 45 minutes.
“They told us if we hadn’t gotten her to the hospital in time, she would have been at risk for going into a diabetic coma.”
Dani Brooks, also of Union, was 10 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Her initial symptoms mirror Megan’s.
“She was drinking a lot of liquids, going to the bathroom a lot and she just didn’t feel well for about a month,” her mom, Jimi Brooks, recalled. “She didn’t have her usual energy and didn’t have the stamina to do things like she used to.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Dani’s sugar count was so high it was like maple syrup, her dad, David, noted.
Looking back, Dani, now 12 1/2, said she had never heard of diabetes before her diagnosis. She admits the condition was scary for her.
“I wasn’t used to needles,” she said.
Now Dani uses an OmniPod insulin pump to deliver the right amount of insulin.
For a year and a half, Dani received her insulin through shots — a minimum of four a day, plus 11 or more finger pricks a day.
“We used to have to hold her down to get the insulin in her . . . and wake her up in the middle of the night to check her,” Jimi said.
A year after her diagnosis, though, Dani and her family felt able to manage her diabetes well enough.
Still, they would probably never have sent her off to any old summer camp, even if the camp had said she could attend.
More Than Just a Camp
The Brooks’ heard about the American Diabetes Association’s EDI camp through Dani’s doctor. They were excited about it, not just because it allowed Dani the opportunity to do traditional summer activities in a more protected environment with round-the-clock medical staff on hand, but also because it was a place where Dani didn’t have to feel singled out because of her condition — all of the campers had diabetes just like her, and they could swap stories about their blood sugar highs and lows, what frustrations they have . . .
“I made a lot of friends,” said Dani, who noted her favorite activities were hiking and playing games.
“I want to go back every year.”
Nicole Rekart said the first time Megan came home from EDI camp, she had a major confidence boost.
“And this year, more than last, she came home with this excitement and adrenalin pump . . . she immediately ran downstairs to download her photos.
“The friends she makes there are like her support group.”
A number of Franklin County children with diabetes attend the EDI camp each year. For more information on the camp, held each June, people can call the ADA St. Louis office at 1-314-822-5490.
The cost of camp is over $700, but families who participate in the ADA fundraising events are given 10 percent of the funds they raise to put toward the camp cost.