Camp Needlepoint: A Counselor Living without Diabetes

‘Merica Ben

Hello everyone, my name is Ben Putrah. I am the younger brother of, the ever so popular, Piper Putrah.

I was approached by Tony Gand to write a blog on what diabetes and camp means to me. Honestly, I can’t even express into words what camp and diabetes mean to me.

I was 9 years old when my sister was diagnosed with diabetes, that was 14 years ago. Up until 4 years ago, I knew that my sister had diabetes and that it was a life long illness but other than that I knew she had to test her blood and watch what she ate; that was the extent of it.

I remember it like it was yesterday, I was sitting in the kitchen at my parent’s house and my sister asked me to work at camp. On the way to camp I was very nervous, it’s a long drive to Park River, North Dakota, to think about what I may have gotten myself into.

Turned out to be the greatest experience of my life. I have never felt the way I do at camp. All of the kids I worked with and the staff I worked with have forever impacted me. Being a person living without diabetes, I was the outcast. I wasn’t treated like that at all though, I didn’t know what an A1C was or what a good blood sugar or a bad blood sugar was. I knew next to nothing about diabetes. I had so many questions but every time I asked a question, it went answered.  Throughout the course of two weeks I probably asked at least 50,000 questions. It must have been sickening to the other staff and kids but they all answered them. They knew I was there to learn more about diabetes.

After the first week at Camp Sioux, Becky’s camp aside from Camp Needlepoint, I expressed my gratitude to everyone. Now I have cried pretty hard before, but I don’t think I have ever cried as hard as I did when I thanked everyone for including me into the diabetes family. Most of all, I wanted to thank my sister for giving me that opportunity to go to camp. Second week came and went and Becky asked me if I wanted to work at Camp Needlepoint in August, I immediately said yes before she could even finish her sentence.

Camp Needlepoint is much more different than Camp Sioux. 1: The camp is significantly bigger and 2: You are responsible for more kids. It was challenging but equally as incredible as Camp Sioux. Camp Needlepoint is when I acquired the nickname ‘Merica Ben, for my admiration for the U.S. of A. Also, I always ended everything with a hardy ‘Merica! Parents I may be the reason your child walks around at home and says ‘Merica.

Anyways, back to camp and what it means to me. As I said before, I can’t express into words what it means to me. The reason I keep going back though is simple. I have created a connection with your kids and my fellow staff, but most of all I have created a connection with my sister; that couldn’t have happened without going to camp. Below I have included a letter my sister wrote to me my second year of camp. I think you will understand why I go to camp and will continue to go to camp.

In closing, I couldn’t imagine my life without camp. In all honesty, sometimes I wish I had been diagnosed with diabetes so I could have gone to camp for as long as my friends have gone.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this. Have a great day! ‘Merica!

Ben Putrah


To my brother Ben,

Our family has always been so close. Our parents raised us to always be there for each other and to stick by one another regardless of the situation and because of that you and Bo have always been my best friends.

When I got diabetes it was the same way. Our family came together to support me and you were all there for me. When I was in the hospital I remember Mom and Dad making the decision that I was going to be completely independent. They would help when they needed too but I was going to be able to do this on my own. So from that day on I did everything, I counted carbs, tested my own blood sugar and took my own shots. I never made excuses and our family never let me. You and Bo were both so young when I got it that neither of you really learned much about it, I wouldn’t talk about it with you and I wasn’t going to let you help me. I felt so misunderstood and I started to resent you for being healthy. Diabetes was my disease I shut you all out and I dealt with it alone.

Last summer when Becky needed a last minute fill for male staff at Camp Sioux. I thought of you right away. I never dreamt in a million years you would actually come. Driving to camp with you I was so nervous. At first because I knew if you screwed up that would be on me but second because we never really talked about diabetes before. I always acted like two different people. Someone who had it behind closed doors and someone who didn’t in front of my friends and family. I was ashamed.

After the first week of camp last year you made a speech at the end of the week that changed my whole perspective on keeping diabetes private. You were so grateful to be here and so proud to be a part of our diabetes family. After you pulled me aside, you hugged me and told me you loved me and that I could always come to you. I have been doing that ever since. I didn’t feel ashamed anymore and the wall I had up came down.

This last fall I really struggled with my control. I landed myself in the hospital with DKA in September the day before you turned 21. I know you spent your birthday alone because Mom and Dad were with me. I remember when I called you in the hospital to wish you happy birthday and I felt so terrible that I ruined your special day but all you said to me was, “it’s okay Pipe. I don’t care I just want you to get better.”

You are one of the most amazing people that I know and I would be so lost without you. It’s so nice to have you be here by choice because you truly want to make a difference for the people around you. Your strength and determination to push people to their limits is so admirable. I wish I could be more like you in that way. The people you surround yourself with are so lucky to have you. I never want you to forget how strong you are and how much you’ve done for me. You have the ability to change lives. You changed mine. I am so fortunate to have you as my brother! I love you!

Love, Piper

Comments: 2

  1. Kelly Weets July 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm Reply

    What a great post! I, for one, appreciate both Ben AND Piper. Piper was our guide the first time my daughter Jenna and I came to Camp Sioux for a one-day visit. She made quite an impact — we still have a rubber bracelet that says her name on it! And since Jenna has returned to camp for a full week for the past two summers, Ben has been a steady presence in many of her stories — ‘Merica!

    As the parent of a child with diabetes, camp is such a wonderful time for our whole family. Jenna gets to be more independent in her diabetes care, meet people who share in her triumphs and struggles, and have good old-fashioned fun that I wouldn’t dare let her experience at any other camp where they don’t know the ins and outs of her condition. As for the rest of us, we get to enjoy a diabetes-free week with no middle of the night BG checks or carb counting, which is nice, but the highlight is knowing Jenna is well cared for while she’s away. I can breathe easy (well, easier) knowing she’s as safe as any other kid away at camp because of the dedicated counselors and med staff. Thank you to all of you. Camp Sioux and those like it would not be possible without your generosity, knowledge, empathy, and care.

  2. Jessica July 30, 2014 at 12:47 pm Reply

    Thank you so much Piper! Thank you Ben for being an integral part of Camp Sioux. You are so much part of the reason Jacob loves camp. We needed to read this today!

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