MERIDEN — It’s been a world of changes for Aniyah Slater, 11, who learned in October she has diabetes.
There is the new concern over her blood sugar levels and her diet, while she’s playing, making arts and crafts and new friends at summer camp.
”It’s nice and fun here,” Aniyah said. “I wish it was a little bit longer.”
Aniyah is one of 29 children attending a pilot diabetes day camp at the YMCA’s Mountain Mist Outdoor Center. The camp is run in conjunction with the Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, the Y, and funded through the Lion’s Club.
Dr. Cem Demirci, the medical director of the Children’s Medical Center diabetes program, and five medical staff members volunteered their vacation time and are spending the week at the outdoor center.
“This was a long time dream of mine,” Demirci said. “The joy of seeing them happy is enough for me.”
All the children are Demirci’s patients and he has their blood sugar levels recorded on a phone monitor. He can take a reading any time of the day if a youngster complains of tiredness.
At meal times, medical staff chart the children’s food choices and add the carbs to determine how much insulin to administer. Some of the campers add them up and turn them over to staff to record. Their blood levels are retaken before they return home.
The camp has “multiple purposes,” Demirci said.
“The first is to learn about diabetes directly from us,” he said. “We want them to know why it’s important to do things in a certain way. We like them to continue to do the right things at home.”
In addition to learning how to manage their health and insulin intake, the camp also provides a way to introduce them to other children with diabetes.
Traditional community camps might be reluctant to accept children with diabetes over medical concerns, and parents are often fearful of sending them.
“Knowing there was a medical team at the camp made a huge difference,” said Marci Moskal, branch executive director at the New Britain and Berlin YMCAs and a member of the New Britain Lion’s Club. “This is the first time they could bring their kid to a place where they don’t have to stay for the day. A medical team puts their mind at ease...”
The campers were selected by the Children’s Medical Center staff from the local area. They are dropped off and picked up by parents because bus service would require a nurse on each bus.
YMCA Executive Director John Benigni said for many of the children it was their first camp experience.
“It exceeded my expectations in every way,” Benigni said. “We can provide fun, we can provide activities, but we can’t provide the medical staff. It’s reassuring that someone of his (Demirci’s) caliber is going to be here.”
Demirci, Benigni and Moskal hope to continue and expand the program next year, they said.
Alan Daninhirsch, past Council Chairman of the Lions Club – Multiple District 23, was the key to the camp coming together this year. It was an idea he got after the international Lions Club leader asked that the 45,000 clubs get involved in diabetes-related programs.
Daninhirsch wanted to do more than just screenings and pulled from the larger region to come up with the camps.
“The partnership came together like it was made in heaven,” Daninhirsh said.
The Lions Club paid $210 each for 30 children and some incidental expenses. All told they spent between $7,000 and $8,000 for the one-week pilot.
Daninhirsch is pleased with the results and wants to expand the program to two weeks at Mountain Mist next year, and at other regions in the state. He intends to call on other YMCAs, and recruit medical staff from other heath care facilities. The criteria is that every group of 12 campers must have one camp counselor and one medical staffer with them at all times.
“...I’d like to see three more camps established using this one as a model,” he said. “Next year, we’re hoping to have four camps running.”