Gainesville Daily Register

Local News

July 29, 2011

After 60 years, Camp Sweeney still helping diabetic children

Cooke County — Camp Sweeney offers more than just the average summer camp experience to campers.

Sixty years ago, Dr. J. Shirley Sweeney, an endocrinologist, founded a summer camp for children with Type 1 diabetes.

Children ages 5 to 18 come from all over to attend the camp.

Office manager Billie Hood said campers come from all over the state of Texas, the U.S. and as far away as England and Mexico.

The camp runs on the motto that “it is not just camp, it is a lifestyle.”

For these kids, camp means knowledge to improve their lives. Camp Sweeney is designed to be a place where kids learn to manage and plan for their illness.

Medically, this camp has the capability to do this. Those living with diabetes know that testing their blood sugar regularly is perhaps the most important tool for managing their disease.

According to Hood, campers test their levels all together five times throughout the day. Counselors also have the tools or “mini-infirmaries” available at each activity in case testing is required.

“Anywhere else in their lives, they have to carry the equipment with them,” Hood said. “Here all they have to worry about is being a kid.”

Medical staff reviews the test results before each meal and snack. Based on these results, the staff can prescribe insulin dosages and administer the proper dosage to each camper.

Another important factor for those dealing with this illness is proper management of their diet.

According to Hood, each meal is created based on each individual camper’s needs. Calories based on their diet, any allergies they might have and the proper carbohydrates are all taken into account to create the correct meal, suiting each of the camper’s specific needs.

The camp also uses special activities such as bowling, visiting the movie theater or other off-site activities to teach campers healthy behaviors while they are in a non-camp environment.

“These kids don’t live in a perfect diabetic world,” Hood said. “Television, billboards and fast food are distractions to a diabetic lifestyle. We use the off-site events to teach campers to balance the food they eat outside of the home.”

According to Hood, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas completed a study that showed the impact Camp Sweeney has on those who attend.

In an article in Pediatric Diabetes, the study showed that “attending Camp Sweeney is associated with improved glycemic control and parent-reported adherence and adjustment in adolescents with Type 1 diabetes.” While at camp, participants spend three weeks and have over 35 active and passive activities in which they can participate each day.

Active classes for campers include swimming, basketball, jet skiing, tubing, paint ball, roller hockey, sand volleyball, tumbling, weightlifting, cross country and gliding on a zipline.

Passive activities include arts and crafts, fishing, broadcasting using the camp’s FM radio station, photography, riflery and video production.

Campers can only participate in two passive classes a day. The other four classes must be active.

The campers take a break during the hottest part of the day to attend a structured medical education class. Here they also spend time working on the camp’s four ideas.

According to the camp brochure, the four ideas are habitualization, which is needed to develop a treatment regime for children managing this disease; self-confidence to increase the desire to make healthy life choices; self-esteem, which recognizes value in one’s virtues and brings out meaningful life values; and life-long friendships.

These ideas may be true for any camp experience, but they take on special importance at Camp Sweeney where all campers are dealing with a serious illness.

“We want to help them grow as individuals,” Hood said.

At the end of the day, the camp has dinner and the nighttime activities begin. These activities can range anywhere from the off-site adventures to carnivals, dances and a talent show.

“This is my first year at camp and I love it here,” said Julieta Marquez, a 12-year-old from El Paso.

And with camp comes great friendships. Marquez said the best thing about camp is “the friendship.”

Camp isn’t just for the kids. It is also a place for the counselors to learn.

Every year, the camp recruits students who have finished one successful year of college. Counselors come from places such as the University of Notre Dame, Texas Tech University, Oklahoma University, University of Wisconsin and Texas A&M University.

“A lot of these kids go through so much,” 22-year-old counselor Megan Skinner said. “Here they open up and have so much fun. Being a part of making the campers healthy is why I like working here. It truly is the most difficult job in the whole world, but it is worth it.”

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