The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2000 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

Ventilator Camp-A Ten-Year Experience

Mary Dekeon, RRT University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan

A successful home ventilator program for pediatric patients has to have a major focus on a long-term partnership with the ventilator dependent child and their family. The medical complexities and the equipment needs of these children present challenges that can be, and usually are, overwhelming to the family. The need for a break of more than a few hours was the plea of a parent. The concept of a summer camp, five days long and provided free of charge came out of the Respiratory Care Department as an answer to that plea. At that time (1990), it was the first to provide an overnight camping experience without child's parents or routine caregiver.
Getting started was a tremendous undertaking. The first step was to determine if the program was even feasible. We needed to answer the following questions before proceeding with the actual planning.
1. Funding: is it available and how do we get it.
2. Appropriate Site: is there a facility available that could meet the needs of a ventilator dependent population. (Barrier free, sufficient power supply, within 200 miles of the Medical Center)
3. Liability: knowing that the volunteers who would be used to staff the program would be made up of medical professionals, would the Medical Centers liability coverage extend to the camp.
4. Licensing: State licensing is required for all camps in the State, we needed to apply for and be approved for a camp license.
Once these challenges were met, we were able to focus on the actual planning of our summer camp. Some of the main planning focused on the following:
1. Recruitment of volunteers and campers
2. Establishing goals, bylaws and a board of directors
3. Learning the philosophy, as well as the regulations of a camp program
4. Planning and procuring the needed supplies not only the medical supplies for campers but basic first aid supplies as well as supplies for the many camp activities.
5. Planning camp activities that all of the campers could participate in, even campers with high-level spinal cord injuries.
The initial planning group met weekly in the beginning of 1989 and then almost daily the month before our first week of camp which was held in June of 1990. The many hours of planning paid off. That first year far exceeded our expectations. The families felt rejuvenated; campers had made new friends, experienced nature and had the time of their life. Those of us who volunteered shed tears when they said good-bye (there was an exhaustion factor too) and spoke of "next year".
This year we celebrated our eleventh year. We have increased the number of campers we accept, (18 the first year to 30 in current years) and have had hundreds of volunteers from the U.S., Canada, and even the U. K. join us. For the respiratory therapists who began Trail's Edge Camp, what started as a way to give, became the most rewarding facet of our careers.

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