Thirteen-year-old Ahmad Jenkins is experiencing his first summer camp this week with more than 40 other children like him.
They aren’t connected by age or gender – they’re a coed group of campers ages 6-13. The kids at Camp Tanglewood in Evans this week are united by their battles with asthma.
The Augusta Area Asthma Day Camp is being held every day this week. Volunteering medical professionals and students are combining asthma education with regular camp activities, such as hiking, fishing and swimming.
The camp is sponsored by Georgia Health Sciences University and directed by some of its professors and students.
Ahmad said campers played dodgeball with a twist Tuesday. Children hit by the ball had to recall what they had been taught earlier in the day and name a possible trigger for an asthma attack, such as dust or smoke.
Most of the counselors are respiratory therapy students who received clinical credit hours for overseeing and teaching the children.
Mallory Bodolosky, the president of GHSU’s class of 2013, said the most valuable part of the camp so far was to build a connection and a trust with the children that isn’t confined to medical issues. Being both an asthma expert and a friendly counselor made the experience for Bodolosky.
“Kids are more willing to listen, more willing to relate to you and more willing to learn here,” Bodolosky said. “I think the hospital can be sometimes an intimidating environment and sometimes they don’t know what’s going on, but this is a really great way for them to learn with other kids in a more casual environment.”
Kitty Hernlen, an associate professor of respiratory therapy at GHSU, is overseeing her students who are serving as counselers. She said the camp, which will become a yearly event if funding can be sustained, was a great experience for both the students and the children.
“It’s an opportunity for my students to see real life,” she said. “In the hospital you see the patients in a certain way, but this is more real. It’s an eye-opening experience for them to see that.”
Hernlen said outside of some inhaler use and breathing treatments, there have been no health problems among the 44 campers.
“This is a chance to be like any other kid and do what any other child would do,” Jenkins said. “They don’t have to feel singled out because they have asthma. All of the kids here have asthma, so they understand.”
Coupled with learning more every day about his asthma, that understanding and kinship has been the highlight of the experience for Ahmad.
“It’s been great,” he said. “We’re all the same, so nobody can judge each other about the way they are.”