By Daniel M. Siegel, MD, October 01, 2012
There are many great things about being president of the American Academy of Dermatology. I get to meet and talk with many of you and hear your perspectives on our vibrant specialty. I see the inner workings of the organization and how hard members and our professional staff work to serve you. And I get to celebrate great successes, like when I had my head and beard shaved on Aug. 17 after SkinPAC topped the $1 million mark for the election cycle (about which I'll have more to say in this column next month).
But one of the most inspiring experiences of my presidency was my visit to Camp Discovery a few days before I met the shears. As you know, Camp lets children with skin conditions have the summer camp experience many of their peers take for granted as part of growing up. After seeing it first-hand, I have to tell you: It’s one of the best investments we make as an organization. We’re offering an amazing service to people who in many cases don’t get to go outside, or do things that most kids do. It’s a world where all of the kids, even those who are in wheelchairs, get to do everything other kids do.
When you see kids like this in the office, a patient with epidermolysis bullosa (EB) for instance, they’re generally in because something’s going awry. At Camp they’re doing a great job of just being kids. There’s an infirmary for all of the necessary dressing changes, and a volunteer medical staff on duty, but that isn’t the focus the kids are swimming, boating, fishing, doing arts and crafts, and playing games. Of course, they’re all slathered in sunscreen and wearing hats. [pagebreak]
It’s an idyllic setting for the kids and for the volunteers, who feel good just being there. Seeing it in-person reinforced a long-held belief of mine that one of the best, most durable presidential initiatives was when Mark Dahl, MD, set up Camp in 1993.
The particular iteration of Camp Discovery I visited, Camp Liberty in Hebron, Conn., is one of the newest additions to the family of camps we hold each summer. Other camps are held in Crosslake, Minn., Millville, Pa., Burton, Texas, and Carnation, Wash., giving kids from around the country and the world the opportunity to have this special experience.
Indeed, Camp is an international event; many of the facility-provided counselors when I visited were from England and Scotland and came to the U.S. for work for the summer as counselors; their majors include physical education and child development, among others. They were paid to serve as counselors for eight weeks at this multi-use facility built by Easter Seals; many of them so wanted to work at Camp that they chose to stay a ninth week on their own just to be with the kids they got to know last year. [pagebreak]
It was interesting meeting them, and hearing about differences between our respective health systems in terms of kids with severe skin conditions like EB. In the U.S., the Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association (DebRA) of America not only funds research, but also helps families to afford the dressings and supplies needed to care for children with the disease. DebRA in the U.K., on the other hand, is able to focus more of its efforts on funding research, because the health system provides the needed dressings and supplies to families. As we await the outcome of the election and its impact on health system reform (see p. 20), it’s worth remembering that whatever happens, we need a system that takes good care of our sickest and most vulnerable patients.
Speaking of good care, you can ensure that the kids at Camp receive it by volunteering at one of the weeks of Camp, or by making a donation to the Sustaining Fund. Your generosity will join that of many others, both individuals and companies; for instance, this spring Coolibar donated a hat for every camper and shirts and goggles to one camp in Minnesota. Staffers from Leo Pharma spent time at camp in Pennsylvania this summer, helping with activities and participating in the talent show, and current and former Coria Laboratories staff volunteered as counselors at camp in Minnesota. And for next year’s camp, Project Linus has committed to donating quilts for the campers in Connecticut. These are just a few examples of the kind of generosity Camp inspires. Visit www.campdiscovery.org to learn more, and be sure to flip to the back page of this issue of Dermatology World to see some highlights from this year’s Camps!