Julia Blanchette (CWR ’14), a PhD student at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, still remembers how distressed she was when she was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7.
She also has never forgotten how much better she felt about living with diabetes when she attended a summer camp with other children who also suffered from diabetes.
Today, she conducts research at Case Western Reserve University into the adverse psychosocial effects of Type 1 diabetes on self-management outcomes among those transitioning from pediatric to adult health care. She has also stayed connected to summer camp, working the last few years at the nation’s oldest camp for children with diabetes, Camp Ho Mita Koda in Newbury, Ohio.
In fact, her research at the university was spurred by real-world observations she made while working as dispensary manager at the camp, which has also served as a Capstone site for undergraduate nursing students.
“Everything is tied together—my own experience growing up Type 1 diabetes and transitioning to adulthood, the importance of the camp experience, the support network the children gain and my research,” Blanchette said. “I am now a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator.
“Diabetes camp is so important—children learn how to be independent individuals with Type 1 diabetes.”
So when The Diabetes Partnership of Cleveland on April 5 announced the immediate shuttering of the camp, Blanchette was among those who was moved to help keep the camp open this summer.
She and a few others organized camp supporters via social media in the days and weeks following the closing, helping form and grow a Facebook group “Save Camp Ho Mita Koda.”
She also scrambled to gather donated medical supplies and recruit volunteers to operate the camp this summer. Two diabetes nonprofit organizations, Beyond Type 1 and LyfeBulb, partnered with camp and gathered the vital medical supplies for camp.
A full nursing staff and medical staff are also contributing their time, and physicians at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic and The MetroHealth System have also been vital in moving camp forward.
“We just couldn’t allow this camp to close for a summer, so we never let up since April,” she said.
It worked: Camp will open this Sunday for a two-week session (for the oldest campers), two one-week sessions and a day camp.
Blanchette has been named the camp’s health care chair of an advisory board by the camp’s new board (chmkfoundation.org). Full medical care is provided at the camp by University Hospitals/Rainbow Babies and The MetroHealth System, in addition to Cleveland Clinic, a Camp Ho Mita Koda Foundation news release said.
Type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile diabetes, is a form of insulin-dependent diabetes. It is a chronic condition in which the beta cells of the pancreas produce little to no insulin, the hormone required for sugar, or glucose, to enter the body’s cells and produce energy. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes.
Camp Ho Mita Koda (the name means “Welcome My Friend” in the Sioux language) was founded in 1929 by insulin pioneer Henry John and his wife, Betty, a former Case Western Reserve medical student.
Blanchette also wrote a blog post about her own childhood and the movement to save the camp at lyfebulb.com/2017/05/17/11550/.
Read her answers to this week’s five questions.
1. What’s your favorite place in Cleveland?
My favorite place is my own neighborhood (Cedar Lee area) because it is so diverse. I love walking around when the weather is nice and grabbing a cup of coffee at Phoenix, tacos from Lopez, gluten-free pizza from Dewey’s or a glass of wine from CLE Urban Winery. Plus, the Cleveland Heights Library is a wonderful place to get work done.
2. If you could have any superpower, what would you pick?
Teleportation, not to go back in time or into the future, but to travel quickly. It is hard living in Cleveland when the rest of my family is in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Canada. I wish I could see them more often.
3. When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I wanted to go into the health care field. At one point, maybe about fourth grade, I told everyone I wanted to be a scientist. Then, I wanted to be a nurse and diabetes educator like the family nurse practitioner who helped diagnose me with Type 1 diabetes. Then, I was really interested in going into diabetes research. At other points during high school I wanted to become a doctor or go into health care policy. I guess my interests haven’t changed too much.
4. Throughout all of your schooling, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Pursue your true interests. There were a lot of areas in clinical nursing that I had a more difficult time engaging in, but I always found a way to connect nursing care to diabetes. My nursing interests aren’t very common, so I had a difficult time figuring out how to pursue a career that interested me. Most of my other classmates went to work in the hospital. Many faculty and instructors at the School of Nursing (during my undergraduate career) encouraged me to go into what I was passionate about, which is diabetes education and research. I am so happy and engaged in the area of nursing I pursued and do not regret taking a more difficult and longer path to discover happiness in my work.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
There are many things I love about Case Western Reserve University. It is difficult to pick just one… I liked it enough to stay here for another degree! I have to say that the faculty and peers inside and outside of my program are inspiring. I have learned so much from not just the faculty but the students here too.