Everything I learned About Life, I Learned at Asthma Camp

Vol. 14 •Issue 20 • Page 82
Everything I learned About Life, I Learned at Asthma Camp * Everything I learned About Life, I Learned at Asthma Camp

By Shawna DeMarie, BS, RRT

I don’t know what made me call. One day last spring, I read a newspaper article about Camp Superkids, a program for children with moderate to severe asthma sponsored by the American Lung Association of Illinois. The article yielded the telephone number for Camp Director Carol Schenk, RN, RRT, who was seeking volunteers. I gave in to impulse and called her and she sent me an application.

When I told my mother I was going camping, she looked at me in disbelief. In retrospect, I can understand her skepticism. My last camping experience was at age 10. Added to that, I’m not known for my friendly rapport with insects. But I was determined to do this.

As it got closer to camp time, Carol sent a packet containing a list of things to bring: a sleeping bag, insect repellent (non-aerosol, of course), sunscreen, tennis shoes, water guns. Water guns? I was getting really excited now and begin proudly telling my co-workers where I was going on my “vacation.”


I showed up for orientation and I realized I knew no one. I had talked to Carol and Brian Lawlor, head respiratory therapist, on the phone. But that changed fast. Over the next 24 hours, I met RTs, nurses, physicians and counselors. Veterans laughed and hugged each other as they reunited and offered some camp advice to us “rookies.” By the time the campers arrived, I felt as if we had known each other for weeks.

Meeting the campers and their families the first day of camp was a treat. Parents filled us in on medications and settled their campers into their bunks. The campers were excited and valiantly searched for other campers in their “group” so they could get started.

So it began. I would have never guessed how hard we would work. During the day, there were four scheduled times for medications, with peak flows monitored at the first and last. This does not sound difficult until you multiply the task by 100+ campers, aged eight to 12. Some needed inhalers; some, nebulizers; and most, pills of some sort. All needed education.

Over the course of the week, we engaged in arts and crafts, science experiments, hiking, a trip to the water park and much more. In addition, campers received education about their asthma. They learned how and why to use their peak flow meters and spacers, which medicines to use when, and how to avoid their triggers.

Jenn Watts, CRT, education director, helped campers gain a better understand of their asthma through games, illustrations, and group discussions.

For that week, I was a respiratory therapist, a part-time counselor, a stand-in for arts and crafts and a full-time friend. I provided asthma education to campers, parents and a few counselors. I expected that.


I did not expect to learn. But I did. I learned you cannot succeed if you don’t even try, that teamwork makes everything easier and that having faith in yourself is as important as having faith in others. I also learned that having a child run up to you and say thank you is the best feeling in the world. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

As a group, we survived water gun attacks, friendly rivalry between nurses and therapists, and an impromptu football game. We taught campers to chant “RT ROCKS!” after each meal, and comforted them during a brief storm. We laughed, we sang, and we learned to play cards. Ultimately, we were there for those kids. And while the campers learned about asthma, we learned about life.

I’ll continue to be a Camp Superkids staff member for as long as they’ll take me. When something has that kind of impact on your life, you can’t ignore it. In the first week I was home, I received 54 e-mails from my new friends. They all bore the same message: what a great camp we had this year, and we hope to see everyone again next year. I invite everyone to find out for yourself.

You too can have this type of experience by contacting the American Lung Association at http://www.lungusa.org to learn about the chapter near you.

Shawna DeMarie is a perinatal/pediatric specialist at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, St. Louis, Mo.