Camp KGH helps diabetic youths in battling disease

Children picked up paint brushes Wednesday at the Kennewick General Hospital Family Health Center, using watercolors to help express their feelings of having to battle type 1 diabetes.

It was one of several activities provided to the 23 children who attended Camp KGH, a new resource for diabetic youths in the Tri-Cities.

Painting helps these children learn to open up and share their thoughts about the disease, said Jenn Helms, diabetes and nutrition coordinator for the hospital.

For example, Emma Muhlestein, 10, of West Richland, was diagnosed in March and struggled with her insulin injections.

"I'm not really good with needles," she told the Herald.

Her painting portrayed herself swimming in blue water under a yellow sun, a memory of the day Camp KGH visited SplashDown Cove at the Tri-City Court Club in Kennewick. Other activities during the three-day camp included indoor rock climbing, Zumba, kickboxing and crafts.

Five percent of diabetics suffer from type 1, formerly called juvenile diabetes because it typically is diagnosed at an early age, according the to American Diabetes Association.

At least 100 children attending public schools in the Tri-Cities have type 1, but there likely are more outside the public system, Helms said.

And this week's camp brought these children together, said Lisa Teske, KGH director of marketing and business development.

"At their age, it's about fitting in," Teske said. "They don't want to stand out for the wrong reasons. Our goal here is to emphasize that these kids are not alone."

Kennedy Short, 16, volunteered at the camp because she remembers what it was like growing up with an insulin pump after she was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 3.

"People would ask me questions about my pump like, 'Is that a pager?' " she said. "I remember feeling alone because I was a diabetic."

Kennedy, who will be a junior at Southridge High School, was one of seven teens with diabetes among the camp's 27 volunteers.

Luke Liebert, 7, of Richland, said each friend he made at the camp made him feel better about himself. And he made a lot of friends.

"They're more like me on one side," he said.

The idea for the camp came from Forrest Alexander, board member of the KGH Foundation, the fundraising branch of the nonprofit hospital. The KGH Diabetes Education Program helped the KGH Foundation organize the camp.

Alexander's 6-year-old son, Landon, was diagnosed with type 1 three years ago. When the Kennewick family looked for camps for diabetic children, the closest ones were in Seattle and Spokane.

"So we saw a real opportunity here," he said.

The KGH Foundation and other sponsors helped support Camp KGH, so the cost per child was $60.

-- Eric Francavilla: 582-1535; efrancavilla@tricityherald.com