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A place where she can take diabetes in stride

August 23, 2004|Michael Ordona | Times Staff Writer

The first thing you do is check your blood sugar. You do it six times a day. Three or four times, you take a shot of insulin, otherwise you could have a seizure or even slip into a coma. You religiously count carbs -- but not for the latest diet craze. Keeping your delicate blood sugar balance right is a constant high-wire act. And you're 12.

Leah Rams was a normal 4-year-old until she became extremely lethargic for a couple of weeks and suddenly lost weight. She was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and had to be hospitalized for a week as doctors worked to bring her blood sugar down. Since then, the Redlands girl has had other complications because she didn't follow her strict eating schedule.

"We've had to force-feed her," says her mother, Sandra Ayala. "The doctors said, 'You gotta do what you gotta do.' We had to make her eat or she was going to fade out."

Today, Leah understands her diagnosis and works with her mother and older sister to stay balanced. Most of the time.

"She has to eat her breakfast or she'll be low," Sandra says. "I'd be chasing her around the yard; she'd be saying, 'I'm not gonna eat! I'm not gonna eat!' "

Leah likes playing cards, riding her bike and going to the park with her sister for picnics. The brown-haired girl with glitter eye shadow says she thinks she'd like to be a photographer, after taking pictures at summer camp last year.

She attended Camp Conrad-Chinnock in the San Bernardino Mountains again this summer courtesy of The Times Summer Camp Campaign. Run by Diabetic Youth Services Inc., Conrad-Chinnock is designed for kids with the disease and includes a full medical staff. There, Leah goes rock climbing and attends dances with kids who know just what she's going through.

"All of the children and 80% of the staff get up and test their blood sugar," says Tamara Smith, the camp's director of operations. After taking their insulin, they "play, then have a snack, then test again."

Leah says, "It's a lot of fun because everyone there is like me. They eat the same things as me, and I don't have to watch them eating candy."

"We're all accepting of one another," Smith says. "We're not drawn by where you live or what color you are or what your parents do for a living. We're drawn by diabetes."

About 11,000 children will go to camp this summer, thanks to $1.6 million raised last year.

The annual fund-raising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1.1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

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