DTC: Not your average diabetes camp!
“This is not a diabetes camp. This is a sports and fitness camp for people who happen to have diabetes.”
Matt Corcoran is an adult endocrinologist specializing in type 1 diabetes, treating both teens and adults in his practice. Mentors during his residency encouraged him to pursue endocrinology, and when he was a month away from completing his fellowship, his niece was diagnosed with type 1 at age 3. Beyond Type 1 was excited to talk with Matt about his Diabetes Training Camp Foundation (DTC) and his hopes for the future of the organization.
“That really kind of lit a fire for me and brought a lot of things together for me,” Matt told Beyond Type 1 during a recent interview. “I wasn’t thankful that my niece had type 1 diabetes, but I am thankful for her inspiration and motivation—it really just created a passion for me.”
What makes a “good endocrinologist”?
Matt thinks the field of endocrinology has evolved over the years since he completed his fellowship in 2000. Once a research-oriented discipline that attracted scientists and high-level, critical-thinking types, the diabetes space has “evolved into more of a space for people-oriented clinicians to operate within it. There’s much more room for building relationships and digging into those relationships with people than there may have been in the past,” he said.
Matt thinks doctors who thrive in the field are inquisitive, enjoy tackling complex problems and examining them from multiple angles and are good listeners—something he feels is a particularly critical attribute in the type 1 space.
During his training in that science-focused realm of endocrinology, Matt learned the importance of looking at finding solutions using many different perspectives to “put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
“I was trained by folks who write the textbooks and solved medical issues like how a beta cell functions, but in terms of the practical day-to-day management, I really feel like I owe most of that to people with diabetes. I learned my skill sets in type 1 diabetes directly from people who have type 1 diabetes.”
“The approach I’ve taken up is to try to develop a partnership with somebody that I’m meeting with who has type 1 diabetes and the way I’ve found most effective to do that is really to get to know them as a person. Looking back over the last 15 or 20 years, the most rewarding visits I’ve had with people with type 1 diabetes are visits where we don’t talk about only blood glucose levels, A1c values, or other numbers.” Instead, Matt tries to engage people in conversation about what their day-to-day life is like and what their goals are, and really build a relationship with those who come to his practice.
How do you treat people beyond their numbers?
Matt took this philosophy a step further when he began Diabetes Training Camp in 2006 as an advanced course for athletes living with type 1 diabetes. He quickly realized that it would evolve into a resource for all people with type 1 who want to effectively manage their diabetes during any kind of exercise or athletic training, he said. “We are a fitness and multisport camp for people with diabetes, but more importantly, we want to help people live the life they want to live with diabetes.”
The Diabetes Training Camp Foundation was launched in 2015 to oversee program management. A research team led by team member Dr. Rob Powell, assistant professor of Exercise Physiology and the director of the Diabetes Exercise Center at Marshall University, and a few alumni campers and medical research personnel, was created to measure camp outcomes. Camp staff also includes nutritionists, athletic coaches and clinicians, many living with type 1 themselves. To date, there have been 20 DTC sessions that have served about 500 people total. Campers come from all over the United States and internationally.
“I was surprised at how effectively we could meet the needs of people [who come from] different fitness levels,” Matt continued, “We have folks who want to begin an exercise program and we have folks who are training for an Ironman, and we have everything in between. We were able to deliver an incredible experience over the years based on the feedback, and I give a lot of credit to my team. I have to give them a lot of credit for being able to meet the needs of a diverse group of people.”
Matt sees DTC as a complementary resource to the diabetes care offered by the healthcare system in the United States. He said, “the traditional system is broken and not really set up for chronic disease management, especially type 1.”
What are the goals of DTC?
“Our mission is to empower the community of people with diabetes to thrive,” Matt said.
Matt jokes with the campers at the outset of every camp that if it were possible to take away everybody’s meter for the week, he would do it. “That’s oftentimes how we start out the conversation for the week—it is much more than a number.”
“At the end of the day, there’s absolutely nothing easy about living with type 1. At the end of the day, I’ve learned how extraordinary people who take on these challenges are.”
DTC serves as a place where people with type 1 can disconnect from hectic schedules and “come spend some time with themselves and their diabetes, surrounded by experts who really get it,” Matt said.
“I went into it understanding the power of the community, but I still have to say I was surprised by the true power of the community. What’s really been amazing to me is how powerful the connections are that come out of camp.”
Among the other outcomes of DTC are athletic accomplishments, higher quality of health during athletic activity, improvements in diabetes management related to blood glucose control and/or hypoglycemia, and improvements in confidence levels, which Matt presented at AADE18 in Baltimore.
Matt said one of DTC’s more immediate goals is to build upon measuring camp attendees’ fitness levels.
“I really feel like we’re just on the ground floor of looking at important outcomes, but we are putting the infrastructure in place more effectively,” he explained. The results of DTC are “more than anecdotes—we are having profound impact. It’s really humbling.”
What are you looking forward to?
“I’m very excited about the teen boot camp that we just have launched in the last 12 months. We’ve done two boot camps targeting high school athletes with type 1 and their parents. There’s not a lot of sports and exercise management resources out there for these teens and their families,” Matt told us.
Matt has seen “amazing transformations” happen over these teen boot camps. It only took one teen boot camp for Matt to realize the significant positive impact DTC had on the lives of teens with type 1 and their parents, much like the experience has been doing for adults for the past 10 years. Teens slowly but surely become more open about their diabetes, take on more ownership of their diabetes management; communicate better with their parents and more. During the second teen boot camp in August, the one attendee was a DTC alum who told his parents that if he was going to do anything diabetes-related this summer, it was going to be returning to Diabetes Training Camp.
Matt said, “We’re going to profile a couple of our campers—I wish we could profile all of our campers!—at our first major fundraising event on November 8, 2018.”
Jim and Isabel Allen are sponsoring the fundraiser, which will be held in Atlantic City. Jim is the chairman of Hard Rock International and his wife, Isabel, lives with type 1 diabetes. Proceeds from the fundraiser will help subsidize camp fees for attendees, create more scholarship opportunities and help DTC expand to offer more services and programming to the diabetes community.
“Over the last few years, we’ve delivered over $65-70,000 in scholarships,” Matt said. “We want to get people to camp!”
“We are changing the lives of people with diabetes.”
Find a diabetes camp near you with Beyond Type 1’s Camp Finder Tool.