A METER RACE
Who would have thought testing blood sugars could be so much fun? It was the last day of a 4 day basketball camp for kids ages 5 to 18, with type 1 & 2 diabetes. August, 2015 brought 45 kids with diabetes together, in the gym of a local high school, in Chicago.
Slam Dunk began with a spark of an idea fueled by the knowledge that every child with diabetes deserves the opportunity to enjoy and experience meaningful and fun activities related to his or her diabetes. Slam Dunk targets low income kids; kids without resources. Its Mission is simple: Empower children with diabetes to take control of their lives and their diabetes by using innovative experiences that provide the knowledge, support and motivation to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.
Since 2004, kids with diabetes have come from all over, from as far away as Croatia, to learn to play ball and manage their diabetes. They are as diverse as their demographics. This summer Slam Dunk welcomed neighborhood kids, a New Yorker and Iowan and a South Carolinian. Most would have never experienced a camp like this- one where health care professionals who specialize in diabetes team up with professional basketball coaches combining fun with diabetes education.
Balancing food, exercise, insulin and or oral medications is a daunting task for the average adult with diabetes. Imagine what it must be like for a 5 year old or a 15 year old. Now throw into the mix the intense activity of basketball and blood glucose testing drives the success of this Game Plan.
Here on the courts of Slam Dunk for Diabetes remarkable things take place. Kids assigned to groups with names like Slam Dunkers, Three Point Shooters, Point Guards and Rebounders are matched to courtside medical staff tables with diabetes educators bearing those names. And this is where diabetes education comes to life. Time outs become “teaching moments” with quick moves and quick thinking on the court spilling out onto the sidelines. Slam Dunk Kids, 10 deep in line, test, think and treat all within a minute or two as the next Slam Dunk Kid impatiently awaits his or her turn. Thinking on your feet takes on a whole new meaning as the desire to resume play drives his or her decision.
Power Up, Fast Break and Full Court Press translate into eating healthy and preventing hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. These teaching moments with diabetes educators are unobtrusive and have a purpose. By day two or three the majority of kids have learned more about their diabetes than a year of visits with their health care provider. In fact, some learn to make insulin adjustments with the same ease as someone making change for a dollar.
On the last day of camp, I worked a medical staff table where all the action is. I was assigned to the Slam Dunkers and it was time for a blood sugar test. With a blow of a whistle and a shout for Slam Dunkers to test, the rush to my table was like that of a stampede – kids who were feeling “low” tested first while the others waited in line laughing and talking. The final two to test were 2 six year old boys grinning ear to ear and standing side by side. Suddenly I heard Ready, Set, Go, only to look up and find both boys pulling a strip, lancing device and meter from their case, pricking their finger and applying blood with lightning speed. In union they yelled the 5 second countdown ( 5,4,3,2,1) so familiar to all of us, followed by shouts of I’m 123; I’m 148. A tie, I declared and nodded that they could return to the courts and resume play. Blood sugars in court range; no decisions to be made. All in a day’s work for a Slam Dunk Kid.
Then came the final moments of camp which always seems to come too soon. Coach Eric gathers us on the court for some final words of inspiration. He tells stories about his challenges growing up and reminds them to work hard, and never give up. He reassures them that they can do anything. I tell them that if they can manage diabetes during the intense game of basketball they can manage it anywhere. I tell them I will miss them and think of them often. Some (almost grown up) have been coming since the first camp eleven years ago. They share their worry that soon they will be too old to come.
Coach Eric reminds them to do their exit blood sugar and I watch them slowly make their way to the med staff table for their final blood sugar. There is no rush this time, no sense of urgency and the laughter has faded. They say goodbye to their diabetes educator, their guardian angel for the week. The one who helped adjust basal rates, correct highs and treat lows, take that first injection and supported their decisions. The one who gave them confidence and kept them safe.
I watch goodbye hugs, exchanges of emails and a few tears wiped away along with promises to return next year. Medical charts and supplies are put away, basketball nets are lowered and the courts of Slam Dunk become silent. I remember the words ofa mom several years ago, “There’s magic on the courts of Slam Dunk”.
Monica Joyce, MS,RDN,CDE
Founder and Executive Director