by: Karin Koppen, Director of Camp Klotty Pine and Community Outreach
Every child brings their own set of unique experiences to Great Lakes Hemophilia Foundation’s (GLHF) Camp Klotty Pine. Some campers return year after year and beg to stay all summer. Others are cautious, or nervous, about the week ahead. Activities that are met with huge amounts of enthusiasm for some campers might bring out anxiety in others. These are all completely normal feelings for a child and we understand that each camper is an individual. That is why we strive to make our camp an inclusive space that fosters growth, and most importantly, meets campers at their level.
Every summer, we are challenged with supporting camper’s individual needs. We work all year to develop creative programming and ensure the best possible week of camp, but let’s be real, some years are harder than others. Some years you have a child that is dealing with problems at home, loss, anxiety, or a new secondary diagnosis. Kids are faced with so many obstacles in life beyond their bleeding disorder. At Camp Klotty Pine we embrace those campers and try to offer them the tools and skills to work through those challenges. We want campers to find their second home at camp, where they feel supported and connected to perhaps the only other people in the world who understand what it’s like to live with a bleeding disorder. When they feel that, they can truly take on anything.
This summer, we certainly had many big wins for our campers, but one camper’s experience in particular was especially life changing. As we were registering kids it was brought to our attention that a new camper, Grady, had a significant fear of needles. As you can imagine, that makes life with hemophilia very tough. Grady was hiding bleeds to avoid home infusions or going to the clinic. He was also nervous that he would be forced to try infusing at camp, so he had some hesitations about going. With his parents, and the Hemophilia Treatment Center, we set some realistic goals. Camp was going to simply introduce him to kids living with a bleeding disorder and give him the opportunity to be around others receiving infusions in an effort to normalize the process and ease his needle phobia. We were going to meet him right where he needed to be, and he was okay with that.
Grady arrived at camp with a huge smile, and ready to have some fun. He was positive and kind to other campers right from the very start. We were honestly a little shocked he was dealing with a needle phobia. He seemed so confident running around camp, in the pool, on the athletic field, and playing games. That’s just regular kid stuff though – infusing is an entirely different thing.
Throughout the week we cheered and cried happy tears, as we proudly watched campers infuse for the first time and earn their big stick awards. You can’t help but be inspired by these brave campers. After all, it’s incredibly moving to watch a child change their life. It wasn’t just our amazing medical team and camp staff that felt it, Grady was feeling it too. As the week went on he spent time in the health lodge watching others and seemed to be gaining comfort. But what happened the last afternoon of camp surprised everyone. In the final hour, Grady decided he was going to attempt infusing. There was no pressure and it was completely his own decision. He needed a little practice first, so our enthusiastic medical team and camp staff shared their arms for him to practice infusing with saline. He did it not once, not twice, wait for it, but a third time too! He was infusing everyone – and on the first stick! Next was his big moment. It was his turn, and I kid you not, the camper with the needle phobia nailed it! He infused himself and the pure joy and pride that washed over his face is something I’m not sure anyone in the room will ever forget.
When parents send their kids to Camp Klotty Pine we understand the level of trust they are placing in us. That responsibility is taken quite seriously, despite all the singing and laughter. Camp isn’t just about building relationships with campers, but the entire family. We are all in this together as a community and hearing how “grateful for camp and the terrific staff helping a young man finally overcome his greatest fear” from Grady’s Mom is just the icing on the cake. Life with a bleeding disorder isn’t always easy, but the skills we teach at camp, both in and out of the health lodge, are building the foundation for a life that campers can both manage and thrive in. Aside from a cure, that’s about the best thing we could hope for and we are humbled to be a part of that foundation our camp provides.
Want to get a taste of the summer camp experience? Join us this fall at Family Camp – October 4-6 – Campbellsport, WI. Contact Karin Koppen at 414.937.6782 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.