Camps help kids with chronic diseases connect with peers

While being a kid isn’t always easy, growing up with an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can be especially trying for a child who is sometimes shunned by classmates and often feels alone because of the condition.

That’s the reason why the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America offers Camp Oasis, where such kids can connect with peers and have a great time in the process.

Each summer, the CCFA organizes a dozen camps around the nation for children with inflammatory bowel diseases. Activities at Camp Oasis include sports, outdoor adventures and leadership development, as well as performing and visual arts. The schedule during the day might consist of swimming, team sports, or arts and crafts; while evening activities may include a campfire, scavenger hunt or talent show.

Building self-esteem
Campers develop self-esteem while connecting with others who are dealing with similar challenges. Doctors and nurses are available 24 hours a day to help ensure that the campers follow the healthcare regimens prescribed by their physicians back home.

Although there is a fee to attend Camp Oasis, scholarships are available for kids who qualify.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are autoimmune diseases in which a child’s immune system reacts abnormally to food or bacteria in the intestines. Rather than making antibodies to repel germs, the immune response targets the cells of the intestines. Over time, these attacks can cause chronic inflammation and damage to the digestive tract.

Kids with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis often have symptoms such as diarrhea or pain, which may result in frequent trips to the bathroom or the school nurse. Eating often makes their symptoms worse. And prescription medications can cause side effects such as shaking or red, puffy skin.

Finding important social support
It’s no wonder these children feel like outsiders.

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, social support networks are important for children living with inflammatory bowel diseases. Researchers found that attending a summer IBD camp “improved overall quality of life” for these kids.

Camp Oasis offers kids an opportunity to build confidence, gain independence, try out new activities and connect with the people who understand them. Many campers return from the experience with memories and friendships that last a lifetime. As the CCFA puts it, campers can “put aside their troubles, and just be a kid.”

Isn’t that what childhood should be all about?

Michael Kerr writes about healthcare, technology and business for publications including, Portland Business Journal and Bplans, among many others.