“Camp Oasis” Offers Inspiration to Youngsters with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Jeff Schwartz, M.D., Volunteers Time and Talent to Make a Difference

By: Tracy M. Fitzgerald

More than 1.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. Of those, approximately 140,000, or 10%, are children. Recognizing the challenges faced by young people who suffer this condition, each year the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) offers “Camp Oasis” in locations across the country, giving youngsters with the disease a chance to come together in a safe and understanding environment to learn, interact and perhaps most importantly, just be kids for a week of summertime fun.

In 2011, Jeff Schwartz, M.D., division director of Gastroenterology at Maryland General Hospital for the past three years, volunteered his time to serve as medical director for Camp Oasis in High View, West Virginia, which attracted 52 campers from surrounding states, ranging in age from seven to 18. While administering medication and tending to the general health and medical needs of the campers was Dr. Schwartz’s primary focus, another equally important role was to simply be available to support and encourage a group of kids who face an abundance of challenges in day-to-day life.

“Kids with inflammatory bowel disease often have unpredictable lives,” said Dr. Schwartz, who will return to Camp Oasis to serve as medical director again in 2012. “They come to camp and can ask questions or tell stories that they are not comfortable talking about in other environments. It gives them a chance to relate to others.”

Campers get to participate in a variety of activities, ranging from archery and baseball to swimming, arts and crafts, games and other group-oriented events. In addition to interacting with Dr. Schwartz, they are supported by a camp nurse, a mental health specialist and a team of camp counselors, many of whom have inflammatory bowel disease themselves.

“The counselors are incredible role models. They have had similar experiences but have gone on to do great things,” Dr. Schwartz said. “It is really important for the younger kids to see that. It motivates them and makes them realize that they can be successful too.”

Since its launch in 1997, over 4,250 children have participated in Camp Oasis, which has grown from a small program to one that is positively impacting children, and their ability to cope with their disease, across America.  In 2011, a total of 12 camp sessions were offered in 11 locations coast to coast. Caneka McNeil, Mid-Atlantic Regional Education and Support Manager for CCFA, who is a Crohn’s disease patient herself, says that some participants call Camp Oasis a true home away from home.

“Many of these kids have never met anyone else with the disease,” McNeil said. “Here, they can be themselves and build friendships with people who understand what they are going through. They get to do a lot of things that they normally cannot do, and they feel good about it.”

McNeil encourages physicians who encounter patients with inflammatory bowel disease to utilize the CCFA web site, which features an Information Resource Center to support those diagnosed and their caregivers.

This resource, along with further information about Camp Oasis, is available by visiting www.ccfa.org or calling 1-888-694-8872.

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