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Diabetes camp

Kids with disorder come as campers, return as leaders

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 8:57 p.m. MDT

Brandon Bongard, right, prepares to shoot an arrow during an archery class at Camp Wapiti. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News) Brandon Bongard, right, prepares to shoot an arrow during an archery class at Camp Wapiti. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News)
SALT LAKE CITY — Youths with diabetes sometimes forget that they can have fun like any other child. And while the world makes them feel different, Camp Foundation for Children & Youth with Diabetes UTADA makes them feel equal with their peers.
For nearly 45 years Camp FCYD UTADA has been helping diabetic youth cope with their disease. Since the beginning, doctors, dieticians, medical students and people with or without diabetes have been volunteering their time to help the children. As the campers over the years have grown up, they have returned as leaders to the incoming campers.
Dr. David Okubo had his first association with the camp when he was a medical student in 1977 and has been volunteering his time ever since. For the past 25 years he has acted as camp director.
Camp counselor Justin Gibbons plays hacky-sack with Jesse Trujillo, left, and Max Wilets during nap time at Camp Wapiti. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News) Camp counselor Justin Gibbons plays hacky-sack with Jesse Trujillo, left, and Max Wilets during nap time at Camp Wapiti. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News)
"I enjoy the progression of the kids," Okubo said. "It's more than just a momentary thing. I see them come as campers and come back as leaders."
Bryan Workman, 25, from Idaho was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 3 years old. He started coming to camp in 1989 and has been returning as a leader for the past several years. This year he was a counselor at the preteen session on Aug. 6-12 at Camp Wapiti in Tooele County.
"I joke around and say camp's a disease — you can't get rid of it," Workman said. "I come back now because of the kids so I can give back some of the things I got to love."
Workman has been an inspiration for younger campers throughout the years. He said his heros were his counselors when he was a camper, and he tries to be the same type of hero.
Campgoers have scheduled afternoon snack times after activities to raise their blood sugar at Camp Wapiti in Tooele. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News) Campgoers have scheduled afternoon snack times after activities to raise their blood sugar at Camp Wapiti in Tooele. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News)
"Camp is about them," he said.
One camper he had an impact on was Salt Lake City local Murphy Mendenhall, who was diagnosed with diabetes 11 years ago. His first experience at camp was in 1992, when he was under the care of Workman. He said camp became his home away from home.
"I've met all my best friends up here," Mendenhall said. "They're the people I call when I have problems."
Now at 18, he worked side by side with Workman as a counselor at the preteen session this year. He said he returned as a counselor because he loves camp and wanted to give back.
Jonathan (Jonny Boy) Werner, 24, from Clinton, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 4 years old. He attended the first family session offered by Camp FCYD UTADA in 1987. Since then he has returned to the summer camp almost every year and was program director for the preteen session.
Sean Mitchell tests his blood sugar after afternoon activities and snack at Camp Wapiti. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News) Sean Mitchell tests his blood sugar after afternoon activities and snack at Camp Wapiti. (Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News)
"I used to come because I had friends here who were diabetic, and I wasn't the abnormal one," Werner said.
Now as program director, he said one reason he continues working with the camp is to help the kids feel normal.
"I come for the kids — they end up loving you," he said.
Werner's positive example at camp is carried over into the outside world. He works as an EMT and as a fireman in West Valley City.
"Diabetes can put restrictions on you, but I never let it get to me, and I think it's good that the kids see that," he said.
Before Camp FCYD UTADA, many youth with diabetes were left outside of the circle of extracurricular activities like summer camps because people didn't know how to treat their condition. Something needed to be done, and it wasn't until 1961 that someone finally whispered words of a diabetic camp for youths in Utah.
Charlotte Edlin, a patient at the former Salt Lake General Hospital, mentioned the idea of a diabetic camp for youths to Jackie Parker, a research dietician in the metabolic ward in the hospital.
Parker said she took Edlin's idea and pitched it to her husband, Dr. Virgil Parker, who believed it to be a good idea. Getting together with Dr. Gerald Perkoff and dietician Frank Robles who also suffered from type 1 diabetes, the Parkers and a few others created Camp UTADA, and the next year took 14 campers to YMCA Camp Rogers in the Uintas. It became the first health-care camp in Utah.
"We really had people who were dedicated and loved them (the children)," Jackie Parker said.
Virgil Parker said the camp has been wonderful for children, because it teaches them to be self-sufficient as well as learn about their diabetes.
"Children used to keep their diabetes a secret, so seeing others with the disease gives them comfort," Virgil Parker said. "The camp gives them independence and shows them that they're not alone in the world."
Pediatrician endocrinologist, Marv Rallison started helping with the camp a couple years after the first session. He said the purpose of the camp was to provide a safe, medically supervised camp so parents knew their kids would be OK.
"The whole idea was to enjoy the camping experience safely," Rallison said.
Although the camp was a teaching tool for the children on how to manage their diabetes, it was also a place to teach them that they could have fun just like anybody else. Jackie Parker said every year was always "crazy, crazy fun."
From the small session in the Uintas in 1962, it has spawned into several summer camp sessions along with winter and family sessions. Werner said people continue to give their time because it gives them a sense of satisfaction to give back.
"Camp is a very special place," he said. "It's a disease, and you can't get rid of it."


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