MEDIA RELEASES

Diabetes Camp for Northland Youth


For three nights a year Whangarei couple Mark and Liz Askew sleep soundly. The rest of the 362 days, they are fretting about their 12-year-old daughter Maeve.

Maeve has had type 1 diabetes since the age of five and every year since then, has attended the three-day Diabetes and Healthy Lifestyle Camp where she learns more about her condition and hangs out with other like-minded young people.

Not only does Maeve return full of stories and the experiences she has there, but the rest of her family feel well-rested, knowing their daughter has been in great care and company.

“Unless you have a child with a condition you cannot understand the 24/7 worry of your child’s health and wellbeing,” says Maeve’s mother Liz. “Three night’s sleep doesn’t sound like much but, to parents, it is bliss.”

Even brother Hayden shares the joy of Maeve going to camp.

“He gets mum and dad all to himself for the entire time and we make sure we spoil him rotten, particularly with forbidden foods like lollies. Parents of type 1 children are so busy with diabetes management that other siblings often miss out, even though you don’t mean to.”

The children’s camps are run nationally by specialist diabetes services attached to DHBs. Northland DHB Child Health Centre and Diabetes services have provided this service for Northland children and whanau for a number of years, in conjunction with STAND/Maunu Health Camp. The camps are for Healthy Lifestyle (overweight) children, as well as those with diabetes.

However, a change in funding meant that the Child Health team had to come up with new ways to secure resources. During Diabetes Awareness Week last November, the Northland Diabetes Society and Northland DHB Diabetes Service organised the successful fun run/walk to raise funds to help support the camps.

The camps are known to develop resilience, develop relationships with those facing a similar health journey, improve social skills and promote confidence and a feeling of control. The camp situation aids the development and increases physical activity and good eating behaviours with a sense of their culture.

Child Health Centre Healthy Lifestyle Programme co-ordinator nurse Louise Kini says the team’s planning involved many meetings over many weeks to discuss, not only the medical and nursing coverage needed, but also meals, accommodation, activities, facilities and overall management of the camp.

“It all came together at Manaia Baptist Camp earlier this year. The camp gave the kids the opportunity to be with others facing the same challenges as they do. Often messages are the same for diabetes and lifestyle kids - Energy in/Energy Out balance.”

As well as Ms Kini, diabetes nurse specialists and a paediatric dietitian were the mainstay staff at camp, while further diabetes nurses came in the evening to do the night shift.

“We were lucky to have a couple of paediatric registrars - Isaac Bernhardt and Sonja Farthing - staying with us over this time, who got a chance to see these children ‘well’ and in a different light. Our wonderful paediatricians - Vicki Cunningham and Rosemary Ayers - also visited camp each night to discuss medical issues and make insulin adjustments for the following day.”

Sport Northland helped provide activities for the kids, including dance each day - culminating in a performance to the parents - water safety and games. Other activities included crafts, board games, slippery slide, swimming and movie nights.  Family members of staff gave their time and expertise with outdoor games.

A Child Health Centre dietitian provided delicious meals to match the outgoing energy and the needs for the children administering insulin.

“We watched the kids grow in confidence over the week. New skills were attained, such as self-blood glucose testing, recognising ‘hypos’, giving own insulin, trying new foods and physical activities, making friends and team work,” says Ms Kini.

“Both the kids and staff were exhausted at the end of camp but ‘richer’ for the experience.”

Says Maeve’s mother Liz: “Maeve is the ‘same’ as the other kids for her time at camp. They all do finger-pricks together, have competitions about the best blood glucose results and compare devices monitors, needles, pumps tips and tricks. She loves being the same. She loves the discussions and learning new tricks. She mostly loves the fact that everyone ‘gets it’ if you need to do your diabetes thing and each child supports the others no matter what.

“Maeve is encouraged to become independent, an important aspect to life-long great diabetes management, especially as she is now entering her teenage years. The nurses, doctors, nutritionist and carers encourage Maeve to take ownership of her health and wellbeing and, as parents, we are grateful that there are others who ‘go on about the same stuff’ (Maeve’s words). For example, good food, exercise, taking regular blood sugars, remembering to bolus, checking devises, doing site changes and, most importantly, understanding how your body feels when you’re high or low.”

Liz says her daughter has made good friends at the camps - some that she sees outside of camp and some she looks forward to seeing year after year.

“She has also taken on a mentor role with some of the ‘newbies’  Three of the children from the 2015 diabetes camp have looked to her for guidance as they leave primary school and embark upon their journey as year sevens at Whangarei Intermediate without their teacher aide support. Maeve was able to share her experiences from last year and set up a support team for the children to meet at the start of the school year.

“Maeve has also built great relationships with the specialist diabetes team. As a young five- year-old going to the hospital (and subsequent visits over the years) and, later, the check-ups at the diabetes clinic were a little daunting as, although the team are lovely to Maeve and the facilities are child-friendly, the relaxed and personal touch, getting to know the doctors, nurses and supporting staff outside of the hospital environment has been beneficial to building safe and honest relationships.

“We are so thankful for the ongoing care and support provided to our family over the years. The time given by each of the diabetes team for the children who attend the diabetes camps have far-reaching benefits that bolster the children’s confidence and independence year after year.”

 Maeve Askew

 



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