If you wandered into Camp Tanager this week you would see children playing games, swimming, practicing archery skills and learning camp songs.
For most, this camp appears to be like any other. But for one week out of the year it teaches kids much more than social and physical skills.
“Our camp programs are really an opportunity for kids with hemophilia to be in a camp environment and not have to worry about if something were to happen,” says Donald Pirrie, director of the 34-acre Camp Tanager. “We have a good understanding of activities that are safe for kids with bleeding disorders to do.”
Since the late 1980s, Camp Tanager has dedicated a week for children with bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia.
“The whole goal is to learn independence,” says Karla Watkinson, Hemophilia nurse coordinator at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, who has been involved with the camp for 24 years.
Watkinson and Michelle Krantz, who is also a hemophilia nurse coordinator at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, help not only with any medical issues, but also with teaching children to properly manage their bleeding disorders.
“After breakfast they come to our little table in here, and then they just treat with their factor replacement products,” Krantz says. “Either they know how or we teach them to inject it into their vein.”
Children with bleeding disorders lack a protein that helps blood to clot, Watkinson explained. Children at camp learn to inject themselves with medications that help replace clotting proteins that their bodies are missing.
Children who attended the camp, which went from June 22 through today this year, range from 6 to 17 years old.
“The campers that have been doing it a while, they’ll sit next to the campers that are just learning and they will encourage them and sometimes say ‘This is what works for me,’” says Watkinson of when campers learn to treat themselves with injections.
The camp goes beyond teaching just those who have a bleeding disorder. Campers are allowed to bring a sibling or friend to camp as well. Watkinson estimates that a quarter of the 49 campers do not have a bleeding disorder.
“It gives more of an awareness of what the bleeding disorders are,” Watkinson says. “So they feel more comfortable around someone with a bleeding disorder and can be an advocate in the future.”
Krantz said that many of the campers without a bleeding disorder are curious to see how those with it must treat the condition and come away from camp with a greater understanding of how their friends or family members must take care of themselves.
Camp counselors also go through extra training during pre-camp training week so they know how to look for signs and symptoms of internal bleeding.
In the end, if you talk to the children it’s not about bleeding disorders, but just about camp.
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“I like when we get to do all of the water games,” says Trista, 9, as she stood in line for lunch with another camper, Abigail. For privacy reasons, campers are identified by first name only.
Abigail, 11, proudly showed off a small red welt on her arm from practicing archery. “I like the pool parties, and the dance parties and the games.”