A week of hot summer fun empowered 67 young campers at the Texas Asthma Camp for Kids this past week to think beyond the limitations of a chronic illness and take control of their lives.
"The main thing that we want to accomplish from camp — and the kids coming each year — is helping them realize that they are in control of their condition. It doesn't control them," said Dexter Jones, activities director of the Texas Asthma Camp. "It's rewarding to help these young people … take control of their asthma and to live a full and productive life."
Asthma is the third-leading cause of hospitalization among children younger than 15, according to American Lung Association, placing a great deal of concern on the children's better understanding about their disease.
"In the year after the camp such as this, their chances of getting seriously ill, going to the emergency room or missing out on school are cut less than half because they know more about their disease," said Dr. James Stocks, medical director for Texas Asthma Camp for Kids.
The camp works as a learning center about their illness. Each individual child receives a one-on-one review about their medication, asthma triggers, status of how severe their asthma is and ways to prevent an attack.
"Our goal is to teach them about their asthma," said Tracy Drake, registered nurse and educator for the asthma camp. "Everything revolves around asthma and how to control it, and so we have messages of the day, and our messages of the day all have to do with ‘how do you stay in control.'"
Putting a fun interactive spin on the educational side, the nurses create games based on asthma. Games like "Asthma feud" and "Wheel of Asthma," drawing the attention of the kids and producing an interest on their condition.
"We get to have fun. It's not like other camps. It's just for people with asthma, and it shows me mostly that just because I have asthma doesn't mean I can't have fun," said 9-year-old Cherish Frater, who attended the camp for the second time.
Hosted by UT Health Northeast and funded by Texas Chest Foundation, the weeklong camp offered kids ages 7 to 14 with asthma a chance to also enjoy the outdoors while learning.
With three out of five children who have asthma suffering one or more attacks a year, as reported by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, the camp pushes the kids to participate in sport activities that they would normally not be able to partake in. Activities such as archery, swimming, fishing, canoeing, basketball and line dancing are offered to each child.
"I like to be here and come with my friends and learn about asthma and have fun," Ms. Wheat said. "I love it here," said 9-year-old Alayia Wheat, who attended the camp for the first time two years ago.
There are no limits or breathing treatments that could hold Alayia back, as she plans to become a dance instructor when she grows up. Taking four pills a day, she is an active dancer and won first place at her school's third grade relay race this year.
"Sometimes I can't breathe when I go outside," Alayia said. "I practice running, so I have no asthma attacks."
With more than a dozen adults to supervise activities, the kids are able to enjoy the fresh summer air each year.
"They get a chance to see that they can do what everyone else is doing without any limitations or problems." Dr. Stocks said. "Some of the campers are here with us as they grow up. It's like watching your own children after a while. Seeing them bloom into young men and women."
For more information about the yearly camp, contact Toni Moore, media specialist office of public affairs at UT Health Northeast in Tyler, at 903-877-7079 or email at Anntoinette.Moore@uthct.edu.