Kidney Camp back in action

July 25, 2022 - Excitement is building within the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program at HSC Winnipeg because this summer marks the return of Kidney Camp! Since 1997 (no camps were held in 2020 or 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), hundreds of children and teens from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, northwest Ontario and Nunavut living with kidney disease have been able to participate in a true camp experience.

Pediatric kidney transplant coordinator and head camper Julie Strong says Kidney Camp is staffed and equipped to provide the medical care required so fun and adventure can be the focus letting kids be kids. “Kidney disease is quite rare in children,” Strong explained. “Many children may never meet another child with kidney disease, who have had a kidney transplant or who are on dialysis. This can lead to children feeling alone and afraid. Camp lets them meet others who have a similar story and offers a sense of belonging.”

The pediatric team strongly believes in helping children and teens to live well with kidney disease, to challenge themselves and strive to be the best they can be. Kidney Camp, which is supported by funds from the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Manitoba branch, and the Winnipeg Foundation, is an important tool in reaching that goal. “Trying new things, self-discovery and self-esteem come from pushing your own limits and Kidney Camp provides a safe environment to explore,” said Strong.

To countdown to Kidney Camp 2022, we are sharing stories from two campers, Conner and Noah, and their moms about what Kidney Camp has meant to them and their families.

There is only one word for it – excited. Conner is so very excited to go back to Kidney Camp this summer and his best advice for new campers? “Don’t be scared to try new activities,” said the 12-year-old seasoned camper, who also encouraged campers to pack the essentials including a water bottle and a sweater. He is most looking forward to climbing the high ropes, kayaking and of course, snacking on s’mores.

“Kidney Camp offers piece of mind,” explains Conner’s mom and living kidney donor Corinne. “Sending him to a regular camp I wasn’t sure they would truly understand how important it is to keep him hydrated, deliver medications on time every time, and maintaining a healthy diet.”

Corinne says living with kidney disease has always been part of their family’s life since learning of Conner’s kidney issues through an ultrasound during her pregnancy. From the very beginning, Corinne said it was important to them that Conner take ownership of his health. “We didn’t want him to be fearful, but we wanted him to understand his body’s needs and know that living a normal, healthy life is about finding balance.”

It took a little convincing, but once Noah agreed to give Kidney Camp a try, he made sure he packed his gear for two more summers. “I was pretty nervous at first. I didn’t know anyone and wasn’t sure what to expect,” recalled Noah, 17. His advice now? “Just go. You can get away from your parents, have fun and meet new people.”

Mom Debbie remembers her own summer camp experiences and she wanted her son to have the same opportunity to go and have fun and do “normal kid stuff.” “Even as a family, to pick up and travel was extremely challenging, so to have a place that truly understands the needs of kids like Noah is just amazing.”

Noah and his family have been living with kidney disease since Noah’s birth. Early on the family knew a kidney transplant would be in his future and the goal was to be ready when the time came, but first the focus was on providing dialysis to infant Noah and getting him home from HSC Winnipeg’s neonatal intensive care unit. Growing up, the whole family has taken kidney disease in stride and continues to support Noah’s journey after dad Jeff donated a kidney to his youngest son. “His first two-and-a-half years felt like a lifetime – so many appointments, then starting home dialysis, then going to hemodialysis. It was constant activity, but it is what you do,” explained Debbie.

The pediatric team’s philosophy behind Kidney Camp is to help children and teens live well with kidney disease, to challenge themselves and strive to be the best they can be. Now months out from his kidney transplant and finishing his school year through remote learning, Corinne sees Kidney Camp as a welcome back to the real world for Conner and a wonderful opportunity to flex his independence. “When he was younger, camp was all about play. Now that he is older, I’m excited for him to appreciate the friendships and the shared experience with fellow campers.”

While his Kidney Camp days are done now, both Noah and his mom are grateful for the experience. For Noah it was the simple pleasure of being outdoors with new friends playing hide-and-seek around the cabins and hanging out in the dining hall. For Debbie, it was leaving the struggle of worrying about what he could or couldn’t do behind and just letting him be a kid at camp.