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They’ve Got Company Deaconess Camp, Volunteers Help Kids Learn To Live With Diabetes

Never flinching or even pausing in his conversation, 11-year-old Nick Moll shot a spring-loaded lancet into his finger and squeezed out some blood.

He stuck a bright droplet on a scanning machine the size of a large calculator.

Seconds ticked by, then the machine spat out a number: 57.

“Oh!” the Spokane boy said, frowning. It meant his blood sugar was low - for him, a blood sugar level of 120 is normal. He pondered the numbers and figured out a prescription.

“I’ll have two cookies,” he announced. “Isn’t juice too much?”

Moll is one of 47 children at a five-day camp for diabetic children and their siblings near Worley. Sponsored by Deaconess Medical Center’s diabetes education center, the camps show diabetic children that they’re not alone.

“A lot of our campers are new to diabetes. And a lot of them come from rural areas where they know no one with diabetes,” said Christi Malsam, a Deaconess registered nurse. “This is an opportunity for them to learn to live with diabetes as if it’s a normal way of life.”

Known as “Camp Fun in the Sun,” the program includes two sessions over two weeks. All told, 136 youths from 7 to 17 years old will attend the five-day sessions this summer. Nearly all the staffers at the camp, now in its 16th year, are volunteers.

“The counselors are all basically campers who got too old to be campers,” said camp director Jim Hill. The rest of the year he runs a photo lab in Spokane.

The camp is partially subsidized by corporate donations and fund raising. The camp costs about $250 per kid, but the campers pay $145 to $195. There are scholarships available to low-income families.

On Sunday, the operation looked like any other summer camp. Big-eyed first-time campers examined their bunkhouses nervously, hugging themselves. Down by the water, counselors were testing campers on their swimming abilities.

But there are some differences. The campers’ first stop is the “Needlepoint,” where they get medical checks and store their insulin. The camp store carries sugar-free snow cones and diet pop. Dessert one night is a root-beer float - also sugar-free.

The reason: When a person has diabetes, his or her pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, a chemical that breaks down sugar. As a result, a diabetic’s blood sugar can skyrocket, leading to seizures and unconsciousness.

“You control diabetes or it controls you,” Hill said.

The camp shows children they need not be stigmatized or fearful.

“They get a feeling of confidence that they can overcome this disease and lead a normal life,” Hill said. “The counselors have been through it since they were infants, and they serve as role models.”

Jennifer Blomgren, 21, of Spokane, is one of the counselors. She came to the camp when she was 7 - a year after she’d been diagnosed with the disease.

“I was pretty nervous,” she said.

She learned how to check her blood-sugar level and how to give herself insulin shots.

Now a nurse’s aide at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Blomgren returns to the camp every summer.

“This is the two weeks I get off on my vacation,” she said.

There’s only one problem with the camp, she said.

“You gain weight when you get here,” she said. “Surprisingly enough, the food is really good.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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