For children with chronic illness, regular summer activities such as camp, athletics and getting outdoors can be next to impossible. For the young patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC), an …
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For children with chronic illness, regular summer activities such as camp, athletics and getting outdoors can be next to impossible. For the young patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC), an annual camp is making it possible to feel some normalcy when school is out.
For the last 15 years, CHC has partnered with Roundup River Ranch (RRR) in Gypsum. The partnership has created a camp location for patients with serious medical conditions, such as cancer, heart or kidney transplants, sickle cell disease, and/or chronic GI conditions, to attend a free, medically supported summer camp.
Over the last six years, Lillian Moats of Highlands Ranch has attended the camp either in person or, during COVID, virtually over the last two summers.
When Lillian was 7, she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Even though she needed extra rest and requires a restricted diet, Lillian was able to start going to RRR in fourth grade.
Bethany Rippe, CHC child life specialist and RRR coordinator, said for kids like Lillian, the summer camp makes a big difference socially and emotionally. They get to a place where diet and medication is not the center of attention. Instead, CHC nurses and doctors, who volunteer each year, have it all covered.
“I get to go to this camp and relax,” Lillian said. “I do not have to stress about medications and diet because there are doctors there to take care of it. I meet so many new friends and enjoy talking and dancing. This camp makes it possible for kids to not stress about their medical condition for a short time.”
In 2017, Lillian received a life-changing transplant when her father gave her his kidney. Since then, the now high-school junior has been able to join more school sports programs and become a more active teenager. However, Lillian said she still participates in RRR camp, and because of what the camp did for her when she was sick, she has become a program ambassador.
For parents, Carly Moats admitted the first year she sent Lillian was stressful, but she quickly learned RRR made a big difference in their lives, noting that her daughter came home happy and telling non-stop stories about all the fun she had.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for children with limitations,” Carly said. “When (Lillian) was first diagnosed, we were introduced to this camp. We were not ready to let her go. We eventually got to a point where we would leave her knowing she would be well taken care of.”
Carly said there is no way her family could have afforded or risked having Lillian attend a regular summer camp. What RRR has provided is not only respite for parents, but a place where her daughter made lifetime friendships and memories and found a place to feel normal, Carly said.
Rippe said besides providing a space for CHC patients to feel normal, RRR is a service where parents can get peace of mind and be happy for their children.
“This camp is a vital part of these kids’ lives,” she said. “For parents, knowing their children are being taken care of is important. The kids are going to a place where they can talk openly about their illness with other children who understand. That is a different experience than what they get going to school or being at home.”
Chihiro Ishii, of Fort Collins, has attended the RRR camp for the last five years. Ishii, 16, has undergone a major heart surgery and continues to get treatment for a congenital heart defect. Ishii has physical limitations that prevent her from doing normal summer activities.
With a love for arts and crafts and music, Chihiro said RRR has given her the opportunity to meet other kids who have been diagnosed with the same condition.
Ishii said she takes two shots per day and continually takes medicine required after heart surgery. The only reason she can attend RRR camp is because nurses and doctors understand and manage her medical needs.
This year, attending the camp virtually, Ishii said she enjoyed it because she got to share her musical talents with other camp goers from all over the state. Ishii plays the viola.
Rippe said RRR is part of a network of summer camps for children with chronic illness. In total, there are 30 camps held each summer worldwide. Rippe said the camps are all about providing an opportunity for children with life-limiting conditions.
Annual camp is hosted for children between the ages of 7 and 17. It is traditionally held in person, and Rippe said they did not want campers to be left out through the pandemic. RRR worked to create “Camp in a Box”, which she described as delivering joy to campers’ front door.
The boxes included supplies to do a variety of activities with camp guides online. While Lillian admitted virtual camp was not as fun as in person, it still gave her the opportunity to see friends and new campers.
Rippe said because some campers still struggle to do camp in person, RRR will work to maintain certain aspects of the virtual program they created during the COVID-19 crisis.
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