When the founder of an inner-city camp for kids with diabetes got too busy with his studies to plan this summer’s activities on his own, his fellow Samuel Merritt University (SMU) students grabbed the ball and ran with it.
It’s a labor of love for the students, many of whom previously worked at the Diabetes Sports and Health camp (DASH) in Oakland as part of their pediatric clinical rotation in nursing and found it a powerful experience. They were particularly inspired by longtime diabetes champion Lucas Fogarty, who created DASH to teach children techniques for managing their blood sugar while being active.
“As a student nurse, it was such a great introduction to diabetes and understanding what it’s like to live with it, particularly the feeling of otherness in children with diabetes,” said Tino Smith, who is studying to become a family nurse practitioner and worked with other classmates as camp counselors last summer.
The students jumped in to help after hearing that Fogarty, a first-year student in SMU’s Master Physician Assistant (PA) program, would not have time to organize the camp this summer. The nursing students will be joined in the in the all-volunteer effort by some of Fogarty’s classmates from the PA program and members of the SMU Students of Color organization.
“We want to make it a more sustainable program and make sure it functions well into the future in the community where it started,” said Smith of the camp, which is held in Bushrod Park camp in north Oakland where future major league baseball players like Rickey Henderson once played on the ballfields.
Their efforts begin on Saturday, June 10 at 10:30 a.m. with an event at Lake Merritt designed to raise awareness about the camp as well as how the proposed repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act will negatively impact people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes. The family-friendly event, including a run around the lake and a BBQ, will take place at the picnic area near the entrance to Children’s Fairyland and feature “Diathlete” Gavin Griffith, who will share his experience as an ultra-marathon runner with Type 1 diabetes.
To coordinate and promote the upcoming camp session on Aug. 19 and 20, the students are partnering with SMU’s Ethnic Health Institute and its many community contacts such as school nurses, public health officials and health ministry leaders at local churches.
Assistant Professor Marjorie Hammer, who initiated SMU’s involvement in DASH by establishing a clinical rotation for her students at the camp four years ago, said helping to plan the camp this year is providing a good learning experience for the SMU students.
“Lucas can’t continue being a one-man show,” she said.
DASH grew out of Fogarty’s experience as a juvenile diabetic and an athlete. Relying on donations and volunteers, the camp empowers children as young as 6 to flourish with diabetes by engaging in sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer. Camp activities include blood sugar checks every one to two hours because exercise tends to lower glucose levels. Nutrition is a regular topic of conversation and camp meals are carefully chosen, with a preference for meats and other high-protein foods that do not raise blood sugar. Carbohydrates are consumed sparingly, reserved for when blood sugars drop.
Since 2012, DASH has served more than 500 children and their families each year in underserved Bay Area communities like Oakland and East Palo Alto that experience disproportionately high rates of diabetes. Children who do not have diabetes also attend the camp so they can learn about the disease and how they can lower their risk for developing it.
Fogarty said the camp would not have taken place this summer without the SMU students and that their support is vital for growing his DASH organization.
“I feel so fortunate,” said Fogarty. “It’s like getting traded to a team that’s going to the playoffs.”
After spending a decade traveling the globe to motivate people with diabetes to lead active and healthy lifestyles, Fogarty enrolled in SMU to become a physician assistant so he will be better equipped to help juvenile diabetics navigate the path to adulthood.
“It’s the hardest, most fun, fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” he said of the PA program.