Dozens of children will return to school in the coming weeks with special stories on what they did at Camp Crescent this summer. This camp – held July 16-19 at YMCA Trout Lodge, in Potosi, Missouri – is run St. Louis Children’s Hospital exclusively for children ages 8-12 with sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder.
Sickle cell is the most common genetic disease among African Americans, affecting about one in 400 newborns. Normally round blood cells take on a sickle or crescent shape in sickle cell disease. These sickle-shaped cells can clog the bloodstream, creating obstructions that result in episodes or crises of extreme pain and severe medical complications.
Having your child who lives with a medical condition stay overnight for a few days in the Ozarks can understandably cause anxiety for parents who send their youngster to camp for the first time. However, this camp is equipped with medical personnel to address any special considerations or health emergencies that may arise with the youngsters.
“They are more prone to get dehydrated, so we have to make sure they drink lots and lots and lots of water. Many of them take a lot of medications every day, so we have to have people on staff who understand the medications and can dispense them,” said Monica Hulbert, MD, director of the Sickle Cell Disease Program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“Children can have unpredictable pain that can happen in the course of the camp, so we’re prepared to treat their pain with whatever pain medicines they would normally have at home. We have them bring those and, if they have severe pain, we give them pain medicine at camp, try to get them through it so they can get back to the camp activities.”
Vanessa Jones of Collinsville, Illinois found out about Camp Crescent at last year’s Sickle Cell Stroll. She was “excited, but nervous” for her daughter, 8-year-old Samiya Augustus. “I was a Girl Scout my whole life, and I’ve been camping and I wanted her to have that same experience – in a safety bubble,” Jones said.
Samiya was eager to take in the experience as a first-time camper.
“We get to go swimming,” Samiya said. “We get to make S’mores. I packed my medicine and I packed my bug spray, clothes, my pajamas, and my swimsuit and my poncho and my rain boots.”
Camp Crescent activities are like other summer youth camps, which include zip lining, campfires, games, archery, swimming (with a lifeguard monitored), field trips, nature hikes through the forest, singing, dancing and arts and crafts. Children develop social skills, build self-esteem and meet new friends – boys and girls who, like them, live with a painful chronic illness.
Hulbert, another physician, two nurse practitioners and a nurse made up the medical team at Camp Crescent. For any medical issues beyond what can be treated onsite, children are sent to a local hospital or to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
As a 12-year-old, this was the fourth and final year as a camper for Leroy Griffin Jr. “It’s fun and you get to hang out with other kids your age and you get to learn about sickle cell,” Leroy said. “Our blood cells are different and they clog up and cause pain.”
“The first year was a little scary, because we hadn’t been separated before,” said Kendra Houston, Leroy’s mother. “It was more me the first year, but the second year, he talked about it the whole year about how he couldn’t wait to get back to Camp Crescent, and he’s been like that since he was 8. He loves it and he’s never had any problems.”
Leroy is eligible to be a counselor at age 18, Houston said, “but that’s a long six years.”
Parents and children are hoping they will expand the age-range to include older children.
Children with sickle cell disease who are not treated at Children’s Hospital can also attend Camp Crescent. Camp attendance is free of charge, through donations to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. To donate or to find out more about Camp Crescent, visit its Facebook page or go to https://bit.ly/2K1wgh6.