Super Camping for Super Kids -MN. Parent (March issue)

Asthma Camp Article
MN. Parent-March Issue

There are several items 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 on site? Are the camp counselors knowledgeable in environment triggers?  Is there a “cabin nurse” in my child’s cabin?

Some of the concerns may look familiar. Some of the latter concerns only look familiar to parents of children with asthma. If your child suffers from asthma, the list of concerns is a long one. Some Summer Camps might not be an option for your child. But luckily, there are groups such as the American Lung Association that are offering options to parents and their children who suffer from these conditions.

Enter Camp SuperKids – a camp run by the American Lung Association that has been in existence since 1966.  The objective of the asthma camp is to improve 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 the children need a daily controller medication. If the child has very severe asthma (ie: been to the emergency room in the last month of the camp), the Camp recommends the child sit the camp out, and will help the child get ready for the next year.

While this camp 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,” explained 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 more.  The great outdoor experience can turn into the great emergency room experience in a very short time. But at Camp Superkids, all camp counselors are aware and ready.   “That (triggers) is a huge concern,” said 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 has 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”.

The precautions are subtle, but straight forward. Some examples are:

  • There’s a “cabin nurse” assigned to each cabin.
  • Kids check their meds into the nurse. Meds are distributed twice a day
  • There’s an on-site pharmacy, and an on-site doctor 24 hours a day
  • For every 8 campers, there’s one medical staff at all times

At Camp Super kids, the camp counselors are not only specially trained in asthma, most are sufferers themselves.  Joey Cuttoo, Camp Manager, started at Camp Super Kids 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,” explained Peat, “there’s a training program the couple weeks of May, one of our doctors do the run-down. They have a good baseline, then there’s a Sunday review session before capers arrive. There’s a counselor for every cabin of 8 to 10 kids”.

Peat said the children absolutely love taking part in the camp experience. “They go swimming, they zip line, there’s bonfires with camp songs, hiking, there’s a climbing wall, and one night they got to go on a camp out on an Island,” said 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 the form of games. An example is “Lung-Go” which is like Bingo, except you 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. (and 15 and beyond can be involved in the Jr. Leaders program at the the camp) The camp does target the entire state of Minnesota. About 1/3 of its campers come from the inner city, another 1/13 from suburbs and the rest come from greater Minnesota. 80% of the campers receive ‘camperships’, 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,” explained Peat.

Camp Superkids can be a challenging camp to run, and Peat sites the coordination of the medical staff is the biggest challenge as well as its highest priority. “We have a medical board, and everyone is on the same page,” said Peat, “we coordinate enough volunteers to help staff the medical part of the camp.” She added, for example, that pharmacy students from the Children’s Hospital volunteer their time in the service center and pharmacy, and nurses, allergists, pediatricians, and respiratory experts volunteer their time a well, with the majority of them coming from the Mayo clinic in Rochester, MN.

Above all, Camp Superkids is fun, and their campers learn that they’re not alone with their asthma and that there are kids out there just like them.  Peat said that the greatest reward for running the camp is the fabulous stories she hears from both the children and the parents. “The kid returns from camp a different person…really being able to take indpendent 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 begins February 1st.  For more information go to www.lungmn.org (once on the main page, go to “Programs”, and then “Asthma Camp”)

Price – $495 for 5 nights