continued Just as important as the counselors is the medical staff of doctors and nurses. "This year's staff had a record 30 people to serve 131 kids. We also have respiratory therapists and others who assist. There is always a doctor on call, 24 hours a day. Somebody is always around. We have a shift of three days for the staff, then they switch shifts. There were at least 15 for every shift this year, if not more. A lot of them have been doing this since the beginning and some for at least ten years or more -- and they're all volunteers."
With all the extra staff on hand, prevention seemed to work. "There were absolutely no medical emergencies at all. I was really surprised, because they had told me stories about what it was like in the old days. I thought, 'Oh no! What am I getting into?' There were no asthma emergencies, and that's because we help these kids manage their asthma. A lot of people think asthma is not manageable, but it is. Managing means recognizing 'triggers,' communicating with an adult or parent about what you're feeling when you have an asthma attack, and learning how to take your medication correctly. And every child in camp has a written 'action plan' from their physician so we can know about their medications, dosages, and intervals of taking it. We follow the plan throughout camp, uninterrupted.
"The best thing about the kids with food allergies is that every year the cafeteria posts lists of what is in the food. A lot of these kids are old enough to know what they're allergic to, and a lot of them read the lists. They'll just say, 'Oh, I can't have that.' But everything that's in the food is posted, and the kids know whether they should or shouldn't eat it."
Seeing the gratitude and joy on the kids' faces made Ocampo's experience worthwhile. "Since this was my first year, I was learning the ropes, so my time with the kids was limited; I didn't get as much as I would have liked. But for many of the kids I came in contact with, it was their first time away from home. By the time we got to camp, they were very homesick...crying, upset, wanting to go home. But by the second day, they were all smiles; it was as if they had forgotten all about home. I think that was a neat part. For a couple of hours, they thought that they couldn't survive, but after that they made friends easily and just enjoyed the whole week."
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Dr. Michael Welch has been the medical director for asthma camp since 1982. "That's the camp I started with when I was in training at UCLA. I take care of kids who have this disease, and I think there's a need for kids to get off to a camp like this. A lot of these kids are not going off to camp -- their moms are holding onto them. This is an opportunity for the mom to feel good about the kid going off to camp, knowing that he's totally supported by medical staff like me."
The idea of the parent as well as the child benefiting from asthma camp is consistent with the notion of asthma as a "family disease." "The parents are always appreciative that their kid had this opportunity and that the parent had the opportunity of not having their kid around. It works both ways. Sometimes, you see three or four kids in the same family go off to camp. One year we had four kids from the same family go up to camp. Each one of these kids had a lot of involved medications, so it struck me, as I saw us giving them medications two or three times a day, what their mother must be going through. That one year really impressed me in a major way.
"I'll never forget this one kid. I got a call from the ICU at Children's, saying, 'Your patient is in the ICU, you need to come and see her.' I got the name, looked in my file, and I had no patient with that name. But the name seemed familiar. I was curious, so I went over to the ICU, and it turned out that it was a kid that knew me from asthma camp. Just from going to camp she began to identify with me as her doctor. The reason she needed somebody like that was that they weren't seeing a doctor about their kid's asthma. They couldn't afford it. I became the doctor, because I saw that kid once a year. That was sad, because this kid almost died from her asthma in the ICU. That one year, we had two kids die between asthma camp from one year and asthma camp the next year."
Taking a group of afflicted youths out to the backcountry with its unique pollens has little effect in a camp where allergic reactions are the norm. "It's a common misconception that these kids are going to do poorly in the mountains. We have good medications for controlling both their allergies and their asthma, so what happens is that they probably take their medications consistently better than at any other time in their life, because it's so regimented. You want to know what the most common problem is at camp? Headaches. Stomachaches. They come wandering over to the infirmary, complaining of headaches or bellyaches, and when you probe a little further, in many cases it's just homesickness. But asthma?
"Our single major problem with asthma in the history of camp was when one of the medical-staff volunteers almost died from asthma. She was life-flighted out of Running Springs because of her asthma! She eventually died of her asthma. She was a nurse at UCSD. Most of the stuff we see up there, as far as the kids are concerned, is just run-of-the-mill camp stuff. Occasionally, their asthma flares up, and when it does, we're right on top of it, but that could happen off the hill too."