Youngsters with asthma have fun while learning to manage the illness

August 03, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Eight-year-old Kenny Brand of Arnold was enjoying the karate class yesterday at Camp Superkids as much as anyone. But about 40 minutes into the exercise, he wanted to be excused.

"I'm just getting tired," he explained politely to a counselor.

But Kenny is no quitter, the counselor said. He was doing just what the staff at the camp for youngsters with asthma wants him to do; know his limits.

"That's the goal," said Peggy Conquest, nurse manager of pediatrics at North Arundel Hospital, co-sponsor of the weeklong camp for 6- to 12-year-olds. "We want to build their self-confidence and help them understand how to manage their disease."

Lynn Witall, media specialist for the American Lung Association of Maryland, another sponsor, said the association started promoting Camp Superkids in Maryland five years ago. The camps, or similar activities, now are offered in most states, with seven camps in Maryland.

The camp at Anne Arundel Community College, now in its fifth year, offers martial arts, swimming, outdoor games and arts and crafts and teaches youngsters how to deal with their disease.

"We want to give them a normal camping experience in addition to asthma education," Ms. Witall said. "We focus on normal activities geared toward their abilities. Things we know they can't do, we eliminate."

Most of the children, she said, would be excluded from other summer camps, where their health restrictions could be seen as a problem.

One of the most important goals of Camp Superkids, she said, is letting the youngsters try new things and stretch their abilities in a secure environment where everyone else has the same condition.

"If you can't keep up and have to sit back, it's not like a normal camp where you might be ostracized," she said.

Ms. Conquest, who has overseen the care of many asthmatic children, said most can lead active lives with the help of asthma medications and a well-developed understanding of how to handle an attack. The 23 children participating in Camp Superkids are learning this skill, she said.

"When they have an attack, they have shortness of breath and often a lot of anxiety. It's almost like they're underwater and can't breath," she said.

"They have to learn to control the anxiety, and just sit and breathe. Controlling the anxiety level is a big part of it."

Another important part is knowing how to use the medications that control the disease, she said.

Over the past decade, asthma medications have improved greatly, she said, which largely accounts for the reduced number of emergency room visits by children having attacks.

For Kenny, who seemed to have a clear sense of how to ward off potential trouble, just sitting out for 10 minutes made the difference.

By the end of class, he was back with the rest of group, ready to head to lunch.

"I like to play sports, mostly baseball," he said. "But sometimes I start wheezing and coughing, so I just take a rest or take my medication, usually both."

Kenny likes camp, he said, because it was a chance to play sports and have fun.

"I can make new friends and have a really great time."

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