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Camp Opens Wilderness to Kids Who Depend on Medical Technology

August 24, 1990

MAPLE LAKE, Minn. (AP) _ Oxygen tanks, respirators and intravenous tubes share cabin space with sleeping bags and backpacks at S.K.I.P Camp, a retreat for children whose medical needs make them dependent on technology.

″They’re doing things they thought they would never do,″ said Susan Spielman of Bloomington, whose 8-year-old daughter, Maren, prepared to go water skiing on Wednesday.

The girl undertook the adventure although she suffers from central sleep apnea, a condition that requires she have a tracheostomy, or a permanent opening in her neck, so she can be connected to a respirator while she sleeps.

The opening was covered and secured with a thick white towel for the water- skiing outing.

The camp is a project of Sick Kids need Involved People, a New York-based national organization. In its fourth year, S.K.I.P. Camp offers children and their families a chance to break routines that often keep them sheltered from outdoor activities.

″So many of these kids were prisoners in their homes or hospitals,″ said camp director Barbara Donaghy, who volunteers her time along with the other 50 medical and 75 non-medical staffers running the one-week camp. Eighteen children from around the nation attended this year.

Donaghy, a registered nurse and respiratory therapist, said the idea behind the camp is to balance improved technology with similar steps toward bettering patients’ quality of life.

″Most of these kids would not have lived 10 years ago,″ she said. ″There’s more and more technology. But we don’t always follow through with other things.″

S.K.I.P Camp is unique because it involves entire families, doesn’t focus on a specific disease and is run at no cost to campers, Donaghy said. The annual budget of about $50,000 is funded by donations and volunteer efforts.

The 24-hour medical staff reassures parents that their children’s needs will be met, despite the camp’s rustic atmosphere. Families share living quarters in cabins where sophisticated machines hum alongside spartan bunk beds.

At mealtimes, the campers, families and volunteers gather in a large dining hall. Youngsters whose medical conditions require they be fed intravenously sit next to others who chomp on peanut butter sandwiches, Jell-O and other camp fare.

Betty Pankratz of Wichita, Kan., said the camp is giving new confidence to her 10-year-old son, Scott, who was born with a malfunction of his trachea and esophagus that requires he have a tracheostomy, receive oxygen and have supplemental feedings through a tube in his stomach.

″He fits right in,″ said Pankratz, whose husband, Glen, and 6-year-old son, Phillip, also attended the camp. ″It doesn’t seem unusual for him to have to leave the group to take meds.″

″It’s a lot of fun, and I’m meeting people that I like,″ said Scott, who tried horseback riding, swimming, boating and other outdoor activities. ″I know I wouldn’t be doing this stuff at home.

″There’s really nothing to be afraid of,″ he said.

Donaghy, who helped found S.K.I.P Camp in the Miami area four years ago, said she hopes the camp will let technology-dependent children focus on their abilities instead of their disabilities.

Most of the campers’ medical problems will continue throughout their lifetimes, but the camp experiences can show them how to overcome limitations.

″It doesn’t have to stop your life,″ she said.

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