'Vent Camp' Gives Summer Fun for Kids on Respirators

Filed under: Medical Conditions, In The News



Imagine being a quadriplegic teenager confined to a wheelchair and tethered to a respirator. Think of all the childhood experiences that would be denied of you.

You could never play sports, dance at the prom, join the cheerleading squad, go to summer camp ...

Wait a minute.

Actually, you might be able to to go summer camp, after all. There's a camp in Millville, Pa. (about two hours northwest of Philadelpha), called PA Vent Camp. It's designed especially for kids dependent on ventilation, continuous airway pressure or bilevel continuous airway pressure for all or part of the day.

Katrina Thomas is quadriplegic as the result of a spinal cord injury from a car accident in 2001, yet she tells PennLive.com she can ride down a zip line, sing in the camp talent show and dance with all her friends.

It's kind of nice for her and her similarly disabled friends to have place all their own, she tells the website.

"What happens at Vent Camp stays at Vent Camp," the 13-year-old grins. "To me, camp is like a great getaway to see all the other campers and have a great time."

Kids at the camp finally have the chance to just be kids.

"We do this camp so that these kids can see that they're not the only kid in the world like this," Michael Dettorre, the camp's medical director, tells PennLive. "They come here and bond and share stories and have fun. And it shows their family what they are capable of doing, that they don't have to sit in front of a computer or the TV all day long."

The kids, depending on their abilities, can swim, climb rocks and all the other summer camp activities.

"You've never seen anything until you see a vent-dependent kid with their ventilator and portable oxygen and a wound vac hanging off them as they go down a zip line," Tonya Miller, the activities director, tells PennLive.

"Our motto is that it's all possible. You just have to figure out how to modify it! We don't put any limits on anything. That's how we've always operated."

The camp began with 14 campers and now welcomes 42 campers and more than 120 volunteers every June. PennLive reports many of the volunteers are medical professionals who take a vacation from their jobs.

According to the website, the camp costs about $55,000 to operate and is funded largely by the Children's Miracle Network, donations and fundraisers

"It gives me great joy to be able to provide this opportunity for the kids," Kelly York, a volunteer nurse at the camp and team leader of medical care in a cabin of campers, tells PennLive. "These kids get the best experience of their lives out of it."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.