New Brunswick

Diabetes camp at Greenhill Lake makes a comeback

A camp that helps children as young as seven manage their diabetes returns to New Brunswick after local advocates took matters into their own hands.

National group's decision to shut down New Brunswick and P.E.I locations didn't sit well with camp supporters

Hannah Chalifoux was a counsellor at Camp Dia-best before it was shut down, and will be a counsellor again this summer after fundraising to revive the camp. (Submitted)

Hannah Chalifoux was seven years old when she gave herself her first insulin shot. It was an old-fashioned needle and syringe, the kind you might see on TV and cringe over.

That was in 1993, during Chalifoux's first stay at Camp Dia-best at Greenhill Lake in central New Brunswick, where she learned to draw the insulin, check for bubbles and administer the shot.

The week-long camp operated for more than 50 years, offering children with Type 1 diabetes the regular camp experience with the added support of a medical and nursing team.

But when Diabetes Canada, the group that funded the camp, announced it was closing the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island locations this January, Chalifoux said she couldn't tolerate the thought of children not being able to have the experience she had.

Chalifoux's first experience of diabetes camp was when she was seven years old in 1993. (Submitted)

A partnership between Green Hill Lake Camp and a group of volunteer and paid medical experts means a return of diabetes camp.

"The goal is to keep a camp in New Brunswick because living with diabetes could very isolating," said Chalifoux, who was also a camp counsellor. "It's nice to be able to know that there are other people living with diabetes in your community and in the province."

A sense of belonging

At diabetes camp, children can learn to check their blood glucose levels, manage their sugar and insulin levels independently. They also do what kids usually do at camp, Chalifoux said, including swimming, crafts and making friends.

Vanessa Galluchon, 12, has been attending diabetes camp since she was seven years old. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was one. (Submitted)

Judy Roy's daughter Vanessa Galluchon has been going to the camp, about 50 kilometres north of Fredericton, since she was seven.

Roy said her 12-year-old was disappointed when she heard the camp was closed, but they're both hopeful enough money can be raised to get 70 kids to camp this summer.

"[Vanessa] likes that they all do their blood glucose together at the same time," Roy said. "She likes to experience that they all have the same disease, because she finds it hard in school. These kids deserve this camp for both health and social reasons.

"And that's the only place they can go that they feel a belonging."

Raising money

Chalifoux said the costs of running a camp for children living with diabetes are two to three times higher than they are for a camp without a medically focused program, so supporters of the Green Hill camp are depending on donations from the public and private companies.

She said renting the camp will cost $30,000, and it will cost around $600 to send one child to camp.