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My Time at Camp

When I was a child growing up in Brooklyn, I looked forward to every summer when I could escape the city, be with friends in the country, play sports, have counselors as heroes and come of age as a teenager.  After a long lapse, this opportunity returned in a unique manner — I was asked to represent The Children's Hospital at Montefiore at its summer kidney camp program at the Frost Valley YMCA, which is run in partnership with the Ruth Gottshco Foundation.

This pioneer initiative began in 1974 with the desire of Ruth's mother, Eva, to have a summer camp experience for children stricken with kidney disease requiring dialysis.  Although Ruth, unfortunately, was not alive at the start of this program during the summer of 1974, history was made when 60 children and teenagers from around the United States ventured to Claryville, New York, and the Frost Valley YMCA to experience the beauty of being a mainstreamed camper while receiving hemodialysis in a small renovated facility in the middle of the Catskill mountains.  Indeed, this was the first-of-its-kind program that became a model for others to simulate worldwide.

What I remember vividly and experience every time I go there (and this year will be the thirty-fifth year) is the wonderfully rewarding feeling of seeing children, that we often encounter in the hospital setting while on dialysis or after receiving a transplant, engaging in the wonders of camping with its attendant challenges and milestones. Almost equally important is the mutual appreciation by their fellow campers and counselors who are fortunate enough to have shared their camp experiences with them. 

It is difficult to quantitate this mutual growth and understanding but I can recall many examples where it has changed lives. I remember the kidney campers who were amazed that they could ride a horse, backpack into the woods for overnight stays, and sing to their hearts content in the dining hall along with hundreds of other campers. More importantly, I remember those who used their newfound confidence to move forward with their lives; finish high school, go to college and still return every summer to Frost Valley, not as a camper, but instead as a counselor either on dialysis or with a kidney transplant, now with tremendous responsibilities for others.

I also remember the young visiting international counselor who at age 17 first saw children on dialysis at camp. He returned year after year while in college and is now a leading transplant surgeon at a major medical center. His children also started at Frost Valley as soon as they were old enough and became counselors in the true "Lifer Spirit" of this unique camp.

So why do I love to go to camp?  Because I get fueled by the energy and belief that anyone — if given the opportunity — can overcome even the most difficult obstacles and strive to grow and reach their potential. Around this time of the year I again begin thinking about camp, but these days it's more often thoughts of our Children's Kidney Center at Frost Valley, rather than memories of my own childhood camp experiences.  Come join us sometime and see why thousands of campers and staff also have these memories in their minds and hearts.

Frederick J. Kaskel, MD, PhD, is chief of the Division of Pediatric Nephrology at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore and Professor and Vice Chair of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Posted by blogmoderator on 10/10/2013 at 9:07 AM Add Comment