asthma camp teaches care management
There are always things to consider before choosing a summer camp for your child. How is the staff selected and trained? How is the camp structured? What do the cabins look like? Is there an on-site pharmacy? Are the camp counselors knowledgeable in environmental triggers? Is there a “cabin nurse” in each building?
Some of these considerations may look familiar. Some of the latter concerns may only look familiar to parents of children with asthma. It’s a sad thought that certain camps might not even be an option for your child, based on their individual health needs. But luckily, there are groups that offer options to parents and their children who live with from this condition.
Enter Camp SuperKids — run by the American Lung Association that has been in existence since 1966. The objective of the asthma camp is to improve the physical condition and psychological outlook of children with asthma as well as to educate Minnesota campers and their families about how to best manage their care.
Minnesota’s Camp SuperKids, located at Camp Ihduhapi at Lake Independence, runs from June 26th to July 1st in 2011. The kids that come to this camp have moderate to persistent asthma, meaning that they need daily controller medication. If the child has very severe asthma (i.e., has been to the emergency room prior to the last month before the camp begins), the camp recommends the child sit that year out, and will help the child get ready for the next year.
While SuperKids has the same fun outdoor activities as other camps do, it offers something a little bit more: peace of mind for the asthmatic child and his or her family.
“We provide all the camp experiences,” explains Cynthia Peat, director of Camp SuperKids and manager of respiratory health at the American Lung Association in Minnesota. “They still get to go swimming and canoeing and hiking and zip line. They participate just as any other YMCA camper would.”
While these normal summer activities are a staple for a summer camp experience, they also can be “triggers.” Mother Nature has her share of triggers for the asthmatic child, including pine, grass, pollen, ragweed, and other airborne activators. The great outdoor experience can turn into the great emergency room experience in a very short time. But at Camp SuperKids, all counselors are aware and ready. “[Triggers are] a huge concern,” says Peat. “Our goal at the end of the camp is for the kids to recognize and understand that they have to take good care of themselves, and to know what to do around their triggers, so they understand. A lot of kids who have asthma don’t go as fast, or develop as quickly, and parents will shelter the kids from a lot of things. The bigger goal of the camp is to tell kids that they can! Just take precautions.”
At Camp SuperKids, the camp counselors are not only specially trained in asthma, most also sufferer from asthma themselves. Joey Cuttoo, camp manager, started at Camp SuperKids when he was 7 years old, and suffered from persistent asthma. Cuttoo attended all the way up until he was involved in the Jr. Leaders Program for teens. He now manages the entire camp, and helps with the training of camp counselors. “We work closely with Joey Cuttoo,” explains Peat. “There’s a training program the couple weeks of May, [and] one of our doctors do the run-down. They have a good baseline, then there’s a Sunday review session before campers arrive. There’s a counselor for every cabin of 8 to 10 kids.”
Peat said the children love taking part in the camp experience. “There’s bonfires, hiking, there’s a climbing wall, and one night they get to go on a camp-out on an island,” says Peat, adding that there’s a physician on every boat, and a tackle box of emergency supplies along for the trip.
While the kids may only be interested in the fun, outdoor activities, Camp SuperKids also offers a little bit of education for their campers. After dinner the campers will get some asthma education in game form. An example is “Lung-Go” which is like Bingo, except children have to answer questions that are asthma related. The campers learn what asthma is, how asthma attacks start, how they can avoided, and how asthma can be better managed in the future.
While children of all ages can suffer from asthma, the American Lung Association recommends children ages 7 to 15 attend Camp SuperKids (age 15 and beyond can be involved in the Jr. Leaders program at the camp). The camp targets the entire state of Minnesota. About one third of its campers come from the inner city, another third from suburbs and the rest come from greater Minnesota. Eighty percent of the campers receive scholarships, which are offered to low income families. Most of these families often lack the resources or don’t have health insurance to visit the doctor’s office for their children’s asthma. “We want to make sure we won’t turn away any child who wants to come,” explains Peat.
Camp SuperKids can be a challenging camp to run, and Peat cites the coordination of the medical staff as the biggest challenge as well as its highest priority. “We have a medical board, and everyone is on the same page,” says Peat. “We coordinate enough volunteers to help staff the medical part of the camp.” She added that pharmacy students from the Children’s Hospital volunteer time in the service center and pharmacy; and nurses, allergists, pediatricians, and respiratory experts volunteer as well, with the majority coming from the Mayo clinic in Rochester.
Above all, Camp SuperKids is fun, and campers learn that they’re not alone with their asthma and that there are kids out there just like them. Peat says that the greatest reward in running the camp is the stories she hears from both the children and the parents. “The
kid returns home from camp
a different person … really being able to take independent care of themselves. It’s the best to hear! I’ve already been getting calls on when the camp is this year.”
Registration for Camp SuperKids began on February 1st. For more information, go to lungmn.org (once on the main page, go to “Programs” and then “Asthma Camp”).
meds at the ready
The precautions are subtle, but straight-forward. Some examples are:
There’s a “cabin nurse” assigned to each cabin
Kids check their meds in with the nurse. Meds are distributed twice a day.
There’s an on-site pharmacy, and an on-site doctor around the clock
For every eight to 10 campers, there’s one medical staff person at all times