children's programs, Health, Medical, Nonprofits

Camp provides fun and hope for kids with chronic kidney disease

Bakary Toure playing in the Lake

Five years ago, Bakary Toure, 12, was fearful of summer camp.

It wasn’t the bugs or the kids. It was fear of the unknown. The fear, however, lasted about a day. Things changed rather quickly. The staff won him over.

“After that I realized that everybody was here for me and there was nothing to be scared of,” Bakary says. “After that, it’s been really fun.”

Bakary enjoys swimming and archery. The change of scenery works wonders. It beats being confined in a hospital bed. “I relax and get to be outside more,” he says.

Bob Meyer, Bakary Toure and Susan Elm

Bob Meyer, Bakary Toure and Susan Elm

The National Kidney Foundation of Michigan’s Kidney Camp includes swimming, boating, arts and crafts, zip lining, hiking woodland trails, high ropes, horseback riding, bonfires and other activities.

Held the third week of July each year at YMCA Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Mich., the five-day camp functions as a haven where children with chronic kidney disease can get outdoors and have some fun. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the camp, which provides fun as well as onsite medical staff, who help to facilitate dialysis or other medical needs. It also gives parents a week off to recharge.

Bakary was born with kidney disease, but was fortunate enough three years ago to receive a transplant. Kidney Camp really changed his outlook.

“It’s made me a better person, made me like to go outside more,” Bakary says. “The counselors are awesome. Outside of the people who make this possible, they are the ones who help us around, and teach of things we didn’t know. Our counselors are from England (and) Holland. They teach us stuff from their country. We take from everything.”

Camp Coordinator Bob Meyer believes Kid Camp helps give the children self-esteem so they don’t think of themselves as victims of their disease.

The kids also tend to impact each other as well as the staff, which he finds it remarkable.

Moreover, unlike some specialty camps, Kidney Camp doesn’t separate them from the other kids.

national_kidney_foundation_of_michigan_camp-04“We’re the only group that’s totally incorporated with the other kids who are here,” Meyer says. “That’s a big part of what we promote, so they can feel like they can do what the other kids do.”

The theme, he says, is for the kids to be a kid for a week – not just a patient.

Even so, sometimes being a patient takes precedent. This year one of the kids had to cut camp short because he was called for a transplant.

Although this doesn’t happen every year, Susan Elm, a certified nephrology with Children’s Hospital of Michigan, says the best part of Kidney Camp is seeing the kids out of a hospital setting, enjoying things normal kids get to do.

“Many of our children are inner city kids and they don’t get a lot of time to swim in lakes, ride horses and things like that,” she says, “So it’s a great opportunity to see them in a completely different environment. Still being able to take care of their medical needs, but enjoying a completely different reality for them – it’s a great experience.”

Being able to send your child to a camp where you know there are nurses and doctors onsite to care for your children is very comforting, Elm says, and it also gives them (the caregivers) a little break. It gives them a week to reenergize and get their spirit in the right place to be able to continue to care for their children.

“It’s a two-fold thing – it’s great for the kids, it’s great for the families as well,” she says.

Elm recalls Bakary’s original apprehension about his camp experience. He’s had a transplant and now, he’s vibrant and involved with everything and doing great.

“They feel so much better and their energy is over the top,” Elm says.

That’s absolutely right. Bakary wants that energy to be infectious for other kids like him.

“And for all the other people who are scared to go away from their parents, just try to get out of that shell, out of that comfort zone,” Bakary says, “By that Friday, they’re not even going to want to go home.”

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