Anya Tribune doesn’t remember life before diabetes.
She was 4 when her mother brought her to the emergency room on a Sunday afternoon because something was off: She’d lost weight, seemed lethargic and sat still while her siblings played.
Jamila Tribune remembers the date like a birthday: Feb. 28, 2010 – the day she learned Anya’s life was in grave danger. When the doctor diagnosed diabetes, their lives changed dramatically.
Diabetes shapes everything from the meals they eat to the emergency kit Anya carries. But they found a silver lining in Camp Carolina Trails, where Anya will head Sunday and spend the week.
She’ll swim, camp out, canoe and ride a zip line. She’ll perform in a talent show, dance with friends and have an adopted big sister for the week.
“The counselors are really nice,” says Anya, who’s 10 and lives in north Charlotte. “I get to meet tons of friends, and we’ll all have fun – with diabetes.”
This summer, The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund will send six kids to Camp Carolina Trails, in King near Winston-Salem. They’re among 550 heading to 19 camps thanks to donations from readers and the community.
The camp fund’s intent is to connect kids to nature, promote swimming for fun and safety, and encourage reading to prevent them from losing academic ground over the summer. For many families, camp is an unaffordable luxury.
This year’s honorary fundraising chairman, NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, has urged people to donate what they can to give more kids a camp experience.
At Camp Carolina Trails, children with diabetes get to hang out with others who understand what it’s like to never leave home without a glucose monitor or insulin. The camp staff includes doctors, nurses and counselors who keep close watch and combine diabetes management tips with fun activities.
American Diabetes Association’s Justin Thomas first went to Camp Carolina Trails as a 10-year-old camper from Charlotte.
“I remember driving there, and I thought it was terrible because I didn’t want to go,” Thomas said. “I was the most reluctant camper at Camp Carolina Trails. By the end, I was the most reluctant to leave.”
The camp costs $700 and is offered one week a year. As part of his duties, Thomas, now 33, serves as the camp’s director.
This year, about 200 children – an all-time high – will go to the camp. The majority have Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, which has no cure.
And as America’s weight problem grows, more kids have Type 2 diabetes, a disease usually associated with aging, obesity and a non-active lifestyle. Managing it is crucial: Unchecked diabetes can lead to heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and death.
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“Diabetes is touching more and more lives, and it’s having a terrifying impact on the whole family,” Thomas said.
Yet he and others stress that it’s important for kids to have as normal a childhood as possible while understanding that staying healthy requires diligence.
A week of sleepovers
Anya is smart and cheerful, plays soccer, has a black belt in Tai Kwan Do and loves to sing. She has a service dog named Pax, who keeps her and her siblings company on walks through the neighborhood.
She’s the second of Jamila and Daryl Tribune’s five children, who range in age from 5 to 13.
Daryl Tribune is a store manager for Bed, Bath and Beyond. Jamila Tribune home schools the children, a decision cemented when they found out their Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary school didn’t have a full-time nurse.
Anya wears a pink wristwatch monitor that tells her when her sugar levels get too high and she needs insulin, or sink too low, which means she gets juice or a snack. Her mother wears a matching watch that alerts her if something is amiss.
An alarm wakes her mom up at least twice most nights to go to Anya’s room to check her glucose levels.
The entire family is well versed in her health issues, and they are active in JDRF (formerly called The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). Anya once traveled to Washington, D.C., where she met with members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden to talk about the disease.
It was exciting, but what she’d love more than anything is a sleepover with friends. But Jamila Tribune says it would be too much to ask another parent to take on the nighttime responsibilities of the blood sugar checks.
At Camp Carolina Trails though, Anya gets a week of sleepovers.
She’ll bunk in a cabin with about a dozen girls near her age. Instead of alarm clocks, the night passes with a little series of beeps with glucose level readings and reminders.
Around the clock medical staff, including pediatric endocrinologists, nurses, dietitians and physician’s assistants keep an eye on campers and put parents at ease.
“It’s a break for me, and psychologically, she needs this too,” Jamila Tribune said.
Anya, who went to the camp last year, says she wasn’t homesick then, and won’t be this week. She’s ready to go.
“Camp is the one good thing about having diabetes. It’s a whole week of fun.”
To give to Summer Camp Fund
Donate at charlotteobserver.com/summercampfund. Or send donations to The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269.
Each Sunday during the drive, the Observer will list contributors in the Local section. If you wish to make an anonymous donation, indicate it on the “for” line of your check or on PayPal, note your preference in the special instructions field. To donate in honor or in memory of someone, use the “for” line or special instructions field. Donations are tax-deductible and are processed through Observer Charities, a 501(c)(3). If you have questions about your donation: 704-358-5520.