Originally created 08/17/97

Camp helps children



Despite the oppressive August heat, first-time campers to Camp Oo-U-La often arrive with long sleeves and long pants to hide their disfiguring burn scars, but by the time they leave, they've shed those hot clothes for shorts and short sleeved shirts.

A group of campers leave the Augusta area today for the burn camp, said Keith Donker, a nurse at Columbia Augusta Medical Center and a Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation board member. He is also a volunteer at the camp.

The foundation has sponsored the camp, the only one like it in Georgia, since 1993.

About 80 children will attend camp this week at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, Ga. Of those, about 24 were treated at Columbia Augusta Medical Center Burn Unit, he said.

The children come from all over Georgia with a few from South Carolina.

Kyle Jones, a 13 year-old from Sugar Hill, Ga., said his first summer at Camp Oo-U-La was difficult. Just a few months before camp on Mother's Day, Kyle, who was 11 at the time, was struck by lightning.

With more than 70 percent of his body burned, Kyle spent more than three weeks in the hospital. "I wasn't back to normal (when camp started). My muscles weren't very strong," he said. "All the people there were nice. The kids had been burned, and they helped me a lot. It made me feel better."

Sending her son to a resident summer camp only a few months after such a life threatening incident was not in Denise Jones' thoughts. "It was very hard at first," said his mother. "When they first approached us in the hospital, we were learning about the seriousness of the injury."

A burn injury, she explained, is not like other injuries that heal and go away. Recovery time is lengthy, and the scars are forever. She said she didn't think he'd need a camp for special children, at first.

"He was one of the newest burns there, and he was dealing with a lot of mental things," she said.

During an occupational therapy session, she watched as Kyle encouraged a man who'd burned his hand.

"That convinced us this might have benefits," she said. "He loves it. They have been great to him."

The camp is all about having fun, said Mr. Donker. There's lots of canoeing, swimming, arts and crafts and traditional camp fun. There are no counseling sessions, but specially trained professionals such as burn center staff and firefighters serve as volunteer camp staff.

For Brandon Lee, a 13 year-old from Blackshear, Ga., who has undergone about 15 surgeries at Columbia Augusta Medical Center since flaming gasoline burned 30 percent of his body when he was 4, the best part of camp is meeting his friends.

"You meet a lot of new friends. You get to talk to each other and talk to the counselors," he said. He was especially looking forward to seeing Kyle again. "We were buddies," he said.

Camp Oo-U-La, which comes from a Cherokee Indian phrase for cool, running water, is free to all its participants and is a model for other burn camps, said Mr. Donker. There are only about 31 burn camps in the world.

Medical professionals from Canada will be attending this camp to get ideas for a camp like it. In the past, others have come to learn about the burn camp concept. The camp will run through Saturday.