There’s a bowl filled with vanilla pudding, mashed potatoes, chili cheese corn chips, pizza gold fish, and gummy bears. The “special dessert” was prepared for Suzie Hedrick by a group of young campers. She eyes the bowl skeptically but then takes a few bites and is met with cheers from fellow campers.
This is kidney camp. It’s a place where kids 8-18 can climb a rock wall, fish, and swim, ride horses, and hang from a zip line. For five days, they can spend time with other kids who have kidney disease, and they can forget their cares. The camp is held at Camp Tecumseh and sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation of Indiana. Healthcare professionals volunteer as counselors and are on hand to assist with on-site dialysis and other medical needs.
Hedrick, a Riley Hospital nurse and Beth Johnston, nurse practitioner both work with dialysis patients at Riley Hospital for Children. They helped found Kidney Camp 15 years ago and they haven’t missed a year since.
“What motivates me is to see how these kids overcome obstacles and can have fun at camp,” said Hedrick. This year’s campers included 18 who had kidney transplants, six on peritoneal dialysis, and nine on hemodialysis. The campers on hemodialysis were transported back to Riley Hospital for treatment.
One young patient was so excited about camp that she was nervous that her upcoming transplant would interfere with the week of fun. She began packing her bags weeks in advance. Many of the campers return each year.
Another young camper was so scared to hop on the zip line her hands were shaking.
“I told her ‘when you fall off a horse you get back on or you’ll always be afraid,’” said Hedrick, who just celebrated her 25th anniversary with Riley Hospital. Once she got on the zip line she had so much fun, she rode three times.
Johnston, who has worked at Riley for 26 years, started nursing as a second career. She initially served as a social worker.
As she guides the horse of a young camper, Johnston talks about how the camp has grown over the years. The first camp was held at Bradford Woods with 20 participants. This year’s camp had 36 campers and 51 volunteers including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.
“We couldn’t do this without the help of lots of volunteers and all the staff who stay back at Riley to help our dialysis patients,” said Johnston.
As the camp winds down, Hedrick introduced a new award this year – The Golden Toilet Seat is presented to the campers with the cleanest cabin. On the last night of the camp, the kids enjoyed a dance – with the theme “One Sweet Camp” - and every camper is presented with an award.
Even before they’ve caught their breath, Hedrick and Johnston are already planning camp for next year.
“It’s all about the kids,” said Hedrick. “We’ll do whatever it takes to see them smile.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email firstname.lastname@example.org.