If there were ever any doubts about children with asthma being able to fully participate in typical summer activities, Camp Wheeze Away puts those misgivings to rest.
Last week, Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children, south of Killeen, was filled with youngsters who sometimes have difficulty breathing due to asthma, a chronic lung disease that affects 7 million children in the United States.
Camp Wheeze Away is a McLane Children’s Hospital Baylor Scott & White initiative for children ages 8 to 15.
Kaitie McLendon, 9, was among a group of girls who were taking turns on the zip line.
One shouted “I’m the king of the jungle,” as she zoomed by overhead.
This was Kaitie’s first time at Camp Wheeze Away and her favorite activity after two days was pool time. Kaitie, of Lampasas, doesn’t have a pool at home, but she does have a hill, which she and her brother and sister slide down using soap and a tub.
Kaitie said she was learning more about her asthma and how to treat it while at camp.
There is relief in numbers and being around children the same age who also have asthma builds confidence.
Michelle Schwier, Camp Wheeze Away director, is a registered respiratory therapist, certified asthma educator and asthma outreach coordinator with McLane Children’s.
The asthma outreach program started in March 2013, and since then, hospital admissions for asthma have decreased throughout the system and more people are attending the asthma education classes, Schwier said. The classes are free and open to the community.
Depending on family dynamics, asthma education is aimed toward the parents, the child or both.
Some parents don’t take a diagnosis of asthma in their child as seriously as they should, she said.
“They don’t realize that asthma can become life threatening until their child ends up in pediatric intensive care,” Schwier said.
The child is sometimes the most receptive to education because they know exactly what they were feeling and experiencing during the asthma crisis and they don’t want go through it again, she said.
“We work a lot with the schools, parents, clinic and the hospital,” Schwier said. “I coordinate all of their asthma care so we’re all working the same plan.”
Last summer, of the 38 campers, six had been admitted to the hospital frequently. Of those campers, only two were in the hospital during the 12 months following camp. One went to the emergency department and the other was admitted due to asthma.
Asthma does not go away with age. The symptoms may lessen as the child grows and airways enlarge. However, once an asthmatic, always an asthmatic, Schwier said.
In between the many camp activities, the youngsters learn more about their asthma and how to control it.
The camp counselors and medical staff make sure the campers receive their twice-a-day medications and more as needed, as well as teach them how to administer it correctly.
Each camper gets a backpack full of educational material.
A typical day at Camp Wheeze Away might include horseback riding, ropes, climbing wall, swimming, arts and crafts, movies, shooting off rockets in the pasture, or some sort of culinary activity.
Most of the outdoor activities are held in the morning. During the hottest part of the day, activities move inside.
“We keep them very busy from 7:30 in the morning to 10:30 at night,” Schwier said. “We want to show the kids that there are no limitations to asthma. With proper management and control they can do anything and everything everybody else does.”
Being out in the country, away from smokers and other pollutants, also provides relief to the youngsters.
While the girls were shooting arrows, a group made up of older boys was in a pasture launching rockets made of two-liter plastic bottles, fins, cones, duct tape and water.
Alex Grimm, a student at the University of Michigan, has been a member of Peaceable Kingdom’s staff for the past two summers. He came to Peaceable Kingdom his freshman year as an alternative spring break.
“I fell in love with the place,” Grimm said.
Kristian Boyd, 13, of Temple, has attended asthma camp for three years. Kaleb, 11, encouraged his older brother to attend.
“I thought it was going to be boring, but it’s a lot of fun,” Kristian said. “I love coming here; it’s one of my favorite things to do in the summer.”