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Summer camps accommodate children with medical conditions

Campers at Camp Rainbow Gold’s youth camp for children diagnosed with cancer horse around before the camp dance. Photo courtesy of Camp Rainbow Gold.

For children with medical conditions, summer camp isn’t always a given. General camps may not have qualified staff or necessary supplies to meet their needs.

But Idaho has several summer camps specifically tailored for children who are ill.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association provides camp for children with a variety of neuromuscular diseases, called MDA Summer Camp.

Neuromuscular diseases affect the muscles and the nerves controlling them. The diseases can cause paralysis, so all camp activities are wheelchair-accessible, said Autumn Hume, executive director of the MDA Snake River Chapter in Boise.

“It’s cool to see these kids come out of their shell,” said Emily Howe, who has been a counselor at the camp for three years. “It’s a week for these kids to be regular kids … and do things they don’t normally do.” Howe said some of the campers struggle with discrimination or bullying due to their physical disabilities, and the camp gives them a chance to hang out with children who share their experiences.

“My camper said, ‘It’s cool to have a week where I’m not the different one; I’m not the odd one out,’” Howe said.

Hemophilia Foundation of Idaho in Boise runs Camp Red Sunrise, a summer camp for children with bleeding disorders. Hemophilia is a genetic disorder that prevents blood from clotting. It can result in uncontrolled bleeding and internal bleeding that can cause permanent damage if not treated. There is no cure for hemophilia, and the treatment involves lifelong, intravenous infusions of factor, a protein that helps blood clot.

“Definitely hemophilia can prevent kids from going to a regular camp,” said Taryn Magrini, executive director of the Hemophilia Foundation of Idaho, based in Boise. “It’s helpful to have a camp that’s specially designed.”

Camp Sunrise has a volunteer nurse on staff, as well as an infirmary stocked with factor. The nurse can help campers with infusions of factor after injury or prophylactically, such as when campers know they’ll be engaging in physically demanding activities.

The nurse teaches a class on self-infusion, as children attending the camp are reaching an age when it’s helpful for them to be able to treat their hemophilia on their own rather than relying entirely on their parents.

Historically, Camp Red Sunrise has hosted boys between the ages of 7 and 17 (boys have a much higher incidence of hemophilia than girls), but this year the camp will host families of children with bleeding disorders. The children’s camp typically hosted about 10 campers each year, and the family camp will host 11 families this year.

“It’s good to get together with other families that are dealing with what you’re dealing with,” Magrini said.

The family camp means not everyone at the camp will actually have hemophilia, Magrini said. For example, in one family that will attend the camp, only the father has hemophilia, but his daughters carry the gene that causes the disorder. He wants the girls to be educated about the disease in case they decide to have children someday, Magrini said.

The camp is free this year, paid for by the foundation’s fundraisers. A big fundraiser for the organization is its annual golf tournament, which will be held Sept. 21.

“We really try to get the support of the business community,” Magrini said. She said the organization is generally able to fund the camp entirely through donations. “We try to prioritize that” in fundraising efforts, she said.

Skyers Ruplinger (right) and his camp counselor, Tori Dresser, enjoy some downtime at MDA Summer Camp. Photo courtesy of Idaho Muscular Dystrophy Association.

MDA Summer Camp is also funded by donations, and all camp staffers work on a volunteer basis.

The camp has a doctor and nurse available, as well as one counselor for each camper. The counselors help their campers with everyday tasks and participation in camp activities.

“It’s a person who really helps keep them engaged in the camp program,” Hume said. Many of the counselors are firefighters, Hume said, because firefighters are prominent sponsors of MDA fundraisers such as Fill the Boot.

Hume said the camp offers wheelchair basketball, boating, swimming, arts and crafts, nature walks, and a special camp tradition.

“There’s a yeti hunt every year,” she said. The yeti, made out of paper with sphagnum moss as its fur, was sighted this year, but not captured.

“Counselors have been attacked by the yeti,” Howe said. She said campers can get pretty upset if their counselors are attacked, but they remind the campers that the nurse can fix any damage wrought by the yeti.

Howe said her camper loved the yeti hunt. Older boys who have been coming to the camp for a long time often lead the hunt for the younger campers, an example of the camaraderie the camp inspires.

That sense of belonging is something both camps strive to provide.

“They’re tough little guys,” said Magrini. “Having a chronic illness can be very isolating.”

Idaho special-needs camps

These overnight camps provide special accommodations for children with a variety of medical conditions.

Camp Rainbow Gold (Cancer): camprainbowgold.org

Camp Red Sunrise (Bleeding disorders): idahoblood.org/Activities.aspx

Camp River Run (Life-threatening or disabling conditions): campriverrun.org

Camp Spirit! (Epilepsy): epilepsyidaho.org/programs-services/youth-camp/

HODIA youth camps (Diabetes): hodia.org/camps.shtml

MDA Summer Camp (Neuromuscular diseases): mda.org/clinics/camp/

About Cady McGovern