DAVIS — As the temperature rises, Oklahoma kids pack their bags and head to summer camp, where activities include archery, swimming, horseback riding and counting carbs. At Camp Endres, insulin pumps are as common as bug bites and swimsuits. Endres is a camp for youth ages 8 to 17 who have Type I diabetes In late July, they converge on the YMCA's Camp Classen in Davis to learn how to manage and care for their disease. And to cut loose for awhile. "Attitude is everything when it comes to diabetes management,” said camp director Kim Boaz Wilson. "Children often feel defeated or their self-worth isn't what is should be. Powerlessness, isolation and depression go away as children learn not only how to live with diabetes, but that other people their age have it, too.”
Staff share kids' diseaseWilson knows firsthand the ups and downs of life with diabetes. Not only has she lived with it for 35 years, but she is a nurse and certified diabetes instructor, making her uniquely qualified to help children learn to live with the disease. "Camp changes your views of what you can do and what you can achieve,” said counselor and former camper Bill Cash of Edmond. "It doesn't have to be a handicap.” The views from nearly every point at Camp Endres prove his point. Dr. Hal Scofield, medical director of Camp Endres and resident at OU Health Science Center, said most of what goes on at Endres is like other camps. While typical camp activities are not in short supply, neither is medical staff. Every day at least 25 dieticians, doctors, nurses and social workers are on site to assist the campers and counselors. "It's a way to manage their diabetes under controlled circumstances,” Scofield said. It's also an opportunity for medical interns and professionals to get experience treating and managing diabetes.
Camp aids mom, sonCamp nurse Teresa Barbatos of Ponca City is a medical volunteer at the camp. She first learned of the program in the early 1990s when her son Josh Davis was diagnosed with diabetes. For a while, both mother and son struggled to understand how the disease would fit into Josh's active life. "All he wanted was for someone else to take the shot,” said Barbatos, referring to the insulin shots that many diabetics must take to control the glucose levels in their blood. "He wanted to know that it was a part of other people's lives, too.” Davis, now 26, said at first he cut back on sports and balked at other activities, thinking he needed to follow a stringent plan to keep control of his diabetes. Meanwhile, the carefree days of his childhood sat it out on the sidelines. Then the mother and son discovered the camp and learned that diabetes doesn't have to be a liability. "It changed his outlook on life,” Barbatos said.
‘I'm still normal'Davis learned how to manage his diabetes through the education programs at the camp and, most importantly, he realized he was not alone. "I learned that I'm still normal,” he said. For 14 years Davis returned to camp. When he turned 16, he became a camp counselor. Barbatos took the life experience with her to nursing school, and started volunteering at the camp 10 years ago so she could share what she's learned. "I wanted to take care of people,” Barbatos said. "The key to taking care of diabetes is education.” At Camp Endres, the lessons learned come full circle for many. Campers take control of their disease, and many return to pass their knowledge down years later as counselors. Medical professionals, many of whom have diabetes, volunteer their time to educate and look after the health needs of the children. It's as sure a cycle as the seasons that bring summer camp.
Shayna Gibson, 11, enjoys a game of basketball at Camp Endres. Daily activities at the camp are similar to other summer camps, but insulin rounds and blood sugar checks are as common as pickup games of basketball. By PAUL HELLSTERN, The Oklahoman