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Mindy Gaffney considers herself lucky. After all, she celebrated Halloween twice this season - once in August and again today.

In the summer, she dressed up as a green and yellow bat; today, she's a dragon.Mindy is part of a distinctive group in Utah. She's among the 500 to 600 children who participate in the Diabetic Outpatient Services Clinic at Primary Children's Medical Center.

Mindy celebrated her third birthday in the hospital, her first encounter with diabetes. The youngster and her family have participated in the educational clinics since.

That explains Halloween in August for the Gaffney family. The preholiday celebration was a part of the summer family camp for diabetic children under 7.

"We had costumes for everyone, decorations in the cabin and, of course, trick or treating," explained Debbie Gaffney, Mindy's mother.

More than just fun, the camp experience is informative.

"Patients learn to deal with the everyday demands of diabetes in a supportive way," said Sherrie Lynn Hardy, chief clinical dietician at Primary Children's Medical Center. "Children accept responsibility for their own care, learning to give insulin injections and administer blood tests."

Siblings participate, too.

Lisa Gaffney, Mindy's older sister, practiced giving shots at summer camp. "It was scary at first, but I learned to do it," she said.

Mindy celebrates other holidays like most kids do.

"We make exceptions with ingredients," Debbie explained, "but the basic foods are the same. Mindy always has a birthday cake; we use Cool Whip for frosting. We do the same with decorated sugar cookies. We roll and cut out the Halloween, Christmas or Valentine shapes but use the Cool Whip frosting before we decorate the cookies. We really try to make holidays special with an unusual activity, rather than placing the emphasis on holiday foods."

Hardy offers suggestions to parents - techniques to manage the concentrated collection of holiday goodies that appear with a "trick or treat" bag:

-Portion out the candy supply; diabetics can save special treats to treat insulin reactions.

-Trade candy collection for a pre-determined price or a special gift.

-Donate candy to a non-profit organization.

-Go trick or treating for UNICEF or another charity.

-Plan a family activity instead of trick or treating.

-Treat your neighbors and friends with a treat delivered by your child, rather than collected by your child.

-Concentrate on nutritious treat ideas like nuts, crackers and cheese, raisins or school supplies like pencils, note pads, erasers, stickers, crayons or even balloons.

Emphasis on diabetes, the disease, can be frightening, even overwhelming at the outset. The illness requires careful monitoring of blood glucose levels in the body and management by insulin, diet and exercise.

"Diabetes changed our lives," said Debbie, "but the changes are positive. Now, we're very careful about what we eat; we have to eat on a regular schedule. Mindy eats three meals a day and three snacks in between. She notices if she doesn't get a snack. In fact, even Lisa misses her regular afternoon snack. We all eat better as we've learned to work with Mindy's diabetes."

Learning about diabetes is an essential ingredient in everyday management of the disease.

When a child is diagnosed as a potential diabetic and referred to the hospital, he or she is likely to spend four to five days as an inpatient.

"The entire family is invited to participate in counseling, nutrition education, menu planning and management of disease symptoms classes," Hardy said. "We try to simplify the transition for families. There are follow-up programs, hotlines and a recipe book. We hope to answer questions easily, to provide enough information to help families adjust to a diabetic, but not enough to confuse them.

"We even offer a school program. We have a nurse educator who will visit a child's class to explain diabetes. It helps the child adjust to the classroom with the dimensions of the disease. The explanation assists other children in understanding what to expect with diabetics. We hope to smooth out the waters before an insulin reaction occurs in the classroom."

For Mindy Gaffney, diabetes is an everyday part of the classroom, a part of every day.

But Mindy may be a step ahead of her classmates in one way - she knows how to eat nutritiously, even on Halloween.


Recipes listed:

Sugarless cookies

Apple Bran Muffin

Individual pizzas

Pumpkin pie

Sour cream Spice cake

Hot spiced cider

Cereal party mix

Flavored popcorn