Halfway to New Hampshire, a bus full of eager boys itching to start their summer at sports camp slowed to a halt beside the road. The young man who’d requested the unplanned pit stop was Matt Ising, a nursing student from Penn State hired specially by the camp to watch over eight-year-old Will Bunzel; a first-time camper, and the only child in the group with type 1 diabetes (T1D).
Having just discovered an air bubble in the tubing of Will’s insulin pump, Matt needed to replace the set quickly or else Will could become hyperglycemic. Seamlessly, Matt jumped off the bus, found a replacement set in Will’s bag housed underneath, changed the defective tubing, and gave the bus driver the go ahead to resume course as if he’d been averting these types of crises for years.
In reality, this was Matt’s first test as Will’s caretaker. He’d only learned the mechanics of an insulin pump a week prior when he also met Will and his mom Cheryl—a board member for JDRF’s NYC Chapter— for the first time.
“Dropping your child off at camp is hard enough, but when it comes to a child with diabetes it’s even harder,” says Cheryl, who had never before relied on another person to manage Will’s care.
Despite her fears, she was determined not to limit Will’s camp options because of his T1D. “I already had kids at the [camp in New Hampshire] and it had to work in my mind. I didn’t want to send Will anywhere else.”
And that’s where Matt came in. After an extensive interview and training process, Matt became tied to Will’s side for the next seven weeks, diligently monitoring Will’s food, activity, insulin, blood sugar levels, and even waking up in the middle of the night to do his finger sticks.
“We fell in love with Matt from the minute we met him. He did such a great job from a nursing perspective, and on top of it he also has such a great personality. It was really the perfect fit for our family,” says Cheryl, who adds that because of Matt’s assiduity Will was able to participate in all the same camp activities as the other children, and even saw better than normal blood sugar levels under his care.
As a result of this experience, Cheryl advocates for parents of children with T1D to choose a camp based purely on its merits and suitability.
“Although it’s scary, you should know it’s possible,” she advises. “Have a conversation with the camp about your needs and their needs, and arrange care in terms of what works best for you and your child.”
Nearly eight months later, Matt still communicates with Will on a weekly basis through FaceTime and text message, and he even traveled to NYC to attend JDRF’s Ready, Set, Play event in March with the Bunzels. He plans to return to the all-boys sports camp next summer upon popular demand to continue supporting Will.
“We never expected to find someone like Matt when we started this process,” says Cheryl, “but now he’s like a fourth son to me, and a brother to Will.”
A diagnosis of T1D at any age—whether for you or a family member—can feel scary, overwhelming, and confusing. Luckily, JDRF is here to help you navigate life after diagnosis. Through our many community outreach programs we can help you transition from overwhelmed and confused to educated, engaged, and ultimately, empowered.