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TIMES CAMP FUND

Now she knows what 'normal' is

Allison Sattler was ashamed of having diabetes, until a summer camp helped give her the self-confidence she needed.

June 24, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Allison Sattler, who was diagnosed with diabetes six years ago, used to take great pains to hide her condition even when her family attended a camp for diabetic children. She used to shut the cabin blinds, turn off the lights, and shoo her father and brothers out when it was time for her mom to give her insulin injections. To give herself the shot brought Allison to tears.

Now the 12-year-old is more concerned about the extra time it takes out of her day to monitor her blood sugar than with hiding her diabetes. And she gives herself the shots, no problem.

This summer the eighth-grader will go to camp without her family. Instead of having them take her directly to and from Camp Conrad-Chinook near Big Bear, she wants to ride the bus with other diabetic campers -- a big step for the shy straight-A student.

"Being around other kids works. It has given her a milestone of confidence," said her mother, Janice Sattler. "Camp has really done that for her."

The first few years, Allison refused to go to camp unless accompanied by her family. She was afraid, but so were her parents.

"It's a terrifying thing for a parent to know [their child] has a life-threatening condition," Sattler said. "We really benefited from that trip.... It made it easier to let her go by herself."

At camp, which Allison will attend with help from the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Fund, Allison can share her experiences with other diabetic campers and counselors. She also learns self-care, such as always carrying a snack, glucose tablets and insulin.

"Our main goal is not only self-management but also self-love," said Tamara Smith, director of operations for Diabetic Youth Services. "Diabetes is a small part of who they are. Sometimes in their family, their communities, it becomes all they are. We like to show them there is so much more."

When she was first diagnosed, Allison didn't want her private school classmates to know, afraid they would think she was different. She withdrew.

Her camp friends changed that. "They are normal people, just in the same situation as me," she said. "They are no different from people I know at school."

The avid horseback rider enjoys camp so much that she is returning for the sixth year. She is looking forward to night swimming and arts and crafts.

Around the campfire, popular songs get a diabetic twist. Sattler recalled one family's rendition of the Beatles song "Twist and Shout" performed as "Test and Shot." Laughs are great medicine, she said.

*

About 11,000 children will go to camp this summer thanks to the $1.4 million raised last year.

The annual campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit card donations, visit www.latimes.com/summer

camp. To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash. Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times.

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