A UNM physician who was diagnosed with diabetes as a college student has for decades been helping young New Mexicans live with and even thrive with the disease. Now the American Diabetes Association (ADA) is honoring Mark R. Burge, MD, for his 25 years of service as a volunteer and medical director for the ADA-sponsored New Mexico Camp for Kids with Diabetes.
Burge is a professor of endocrinology and metabolism in the UNM School of Medicine's Department of Internal Medicine and deputy director of the UNM Clinical and Translational Science Center. The ADA will recognize his contributions March 13 at a fundraising dinner in Albuquerque.
Burge began volunteering at diabetes camp in Oregon, his home state, after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during his sophomore year at college.
“I remember asking the doctor, ‘Do you think with diabetes I can still get into med school?’" Burge recalled during a recent interview. "(The doctor) looked at me for a long time and then said, ‘Unfortunately, I don’t think so.’”
Burge drifted for a little while, not sure what to do. “I even took pre-law classes, which were awful," he said. "Finally, I just decided, I don’t care, I’m going to apply anyway.”
That’s when he discovered diabetes camp and became a camp counselor. “It was awesome—I met life-long friends and had a great time. And I then knew that I wanted to be a diabetes doctor,” Burge said.
The New Mexico camp is a transformative experience for children living with diabetes. They get to meet other kids who share the same chronic disease, have fun in a safe environment and learn vital skills for managing their diabetes. For a week each July, 80 to 100 kids ages 8 –13 from across New Mexico attend the camp in the Manzano Mountains outside of Albuquerque. The cost is highly subsidized by the ADA and donations, and more than half of the campers in New Mexico receive some form of financial assistance. Burge has been volunteering at the New Mexico camp since 1991, when he moved to the state to become an endocrinology fellow at UNM.
“Often camp is the first time these kids have been away from their parents overnight and the first time mom and dad have been without their kid,” Burge said.
The counselors and medical staff, many of whom also have diabetes, teach the children how to give their own insulin injections, count carbohydrates at meals and adjust their diet and insulin dosage as needed. Plus, camp is camp—the kids go swimming, play games, rope climb, perform skits, make smores around a campfire and sleep in bunk beds.
“It’s really an empowering experience for everyone,” said Burge, noting that each year there is at least one child who is hesitant about giving him or herself a shot for the first time. “But then they learn that it’s not that hard and that they can do it themselves.”
The American Diabetes Association's dinner in honor of Burge will be held Friday, March 13, 2015, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 4th Street SW in Albuquerque. Contact Ron Guerrero at the local ADA office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-266-5716 to learn more about the event and New Mexico Camp for Kids with Diabetes, or visit ADA’s website.