COVID cancels Kidney Camp, Critical Care Walk-A-Thon

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Virus scraps popular events that bring together patients, families and team members. Plans for a one-day camp in the fall, other possibilities are being considered.


By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Beth Johnston, Suzie Hedrick and Dr. Amy Wilson should have been wrapping up another Riley Kidney Camp this week, celebrating with three dozen or so campers after spending four days and nights at Camp Tecumseh in northwest Indiana.

It’s a fun, annual event sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation of Indiana, of which all three Riley Hospital for Children team members are board members.

The coronavirus forced the NKF to cancel this year’s camp – a move that disappointed families and team members alike, even while they understood that it was necessary.

“It was really hard to make the decision,” said Johnston, a nurse practitioner in the nephrology division at Riley and interim clinical manager for the dialysis unit.

But considering how tight the quarters are in the camp cabins, they recognized that it wouldn’t be safe.

“I think we all probably shed a few tears over it, but we knew it was the right thing to do,” she said.

Johnston, who has been a nurse at Riley for almost 28 years, previously worked in the PICU, where she “fell in love with dialysis patients and the renal team.”

She transferred to be a dialysis nurse and then went back to school to get her NP degree. Her passion for pediatric dialysis patients inspired Riley’s first Kidney Camp 16 years ago.

Dialysis nurse Hedrick works the camp every year, but it’s a labor of love, for sure. She and the kids look forward to attending the camp all year, so voting to cancel was tough.

“I lost sleep that night, thinking of these campers who love this time of year,” she said.

Dr. Wilson, Riley nephrologist, said she and others were “super disappointed” to cancel the camp, but they recognized back in March that it would not be feasible even in late May/early June to bring staff and children together.

“We couldn’t imagine taking that kind of risk with kids who are either on dialysis or have transplants or advanced chronic kidney disease,” Dr. Wilson said.

Thankfully, the news is not all bad. Riley and the NKF are looking at hosting a one-day camp in September for kidney patients, packing as many fun activities into the day as possible. Details on the event will be released once it is deemed safe to gather, with safety measures taken into account.

Another big event that takes place annually in June is the Riley Critical Care Walk-A-Thon. Originally planned for June 6, the walk – which typically turns into a giant reunion for critical care team members and families – has been canceled due to COVID-19.

PICU physician Dr. Courtney Frye said the team is considering rescheduling in the fall but they haven’t finalized any plans given the uncertainty surrounding the virus.

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