For many children with renal disease, attending a summer camp was not an option. The emotional, physical, and financial burden of dialysis treatments extinguished their hopes for a childhood “camp” experience. However, that was until the idea of Camp Okawehna was born in the minds of two hemodialysis kids who wanted to go to camp.
In 1974, Camp Okawehna was established. Located just 50 miles outside of Nashville Tennessee, Camp Okawehna is a week long summer experience for children with kidney disease. Children who have had a kidney transplant as well as those children on hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis are welcomed at camp. While sponsored by DCI, all children between the ages of 6 to 18 years of age are eligible to attend regardless of where their treatment is received. Camp “O”, as it is affectionately called, is the only kidney camp located in the state of Tennessee and one of the largest kidney camps in the country.
Camp “O” has steadily grown over the last quarter century. The first Camp was held in 1975 at Camp Harmony. Attending that first year of camp were 15 campers and 10 staff including Dr. Bob MacDonald, a pediatric Nephrologist and the Camp’s first Medical Director. In 1978 Camp “O” was relocated to Camp Cedar Crest in Lyles Tennessee and has been there ever since. Today over 110 campers and 80 volunteer staff converge on camp every year. In the beginning years hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis were not available on site as they are today. The first days of peritoneal dialysis had the kids performing exchanges in a motor home. Those who needed hemodialysis were being transported to an outpatient clinic in Nashville. Thankfully in 1991 “STIX”, a full service hemodialysis unit, started providing thrice weekly on-site treatments.
During the week at Camp Okawehna everything is provided, from accommodations, food, non-stop fun-filled activities and on-site medical facilities. Every effort is made to accommodate individuals with special needs, including those who are hearing or visually impaired, those with rigid dietary requirements, or individuals in wheelchairs. Cedar Crest Camp is wheelchair accessible and transportation is provided by the shuttle bus.
Camp activities throughout the week include a ropes challenge course, canoeing, swimming, daily crafts projects, “themed” dances (including a prom), concerts on the lawn, a pine-wood derby car race, a hay ride, a luau, and the traditional Camp Okawehna Talent Show. Special events that have taken place in previous years include an on-site carnival as well as other corporate sponsored activities. Campers are expected to participate in activities as much as physically possible. Camp activities are geared to be fun but totally wholesome and to promote independence and growth on the part of the individual camper. This helps the camper develop a trusting relationship in a new environment, explore their full potential, and learn more about themselves.
All of the counselors and staff at Camp Okawehna are volunteers. While some of these kind individuals are physicians, nurses, dialysis technicians, social workers and child life specialists, others are simply at camp to give of their time, energy, and creativity. In the past, there have been pharmacists, business persons, pilots, and even firefighters that volunteer to be counselors at Camp “O”. All counselors are required to submit an application and personal statement for wanting to attend camp.
Because of the nature of this camp, there are numerous medical staff members on site 24 hours a day the entire camp session. Dr. Keith Johnson provides the medical direction for Camp Okawehna. Dr. Philip Berry, a practicing pediatric nephrologist, is responsible for the management of the hemodialysis facility during the week of camp. Dr. Berry is assisted by several other pediatric nephrologists from both the Nashville medical community and outside cities. Staff from respective city groups accompanies their campers to camp to supplement those volunteers from the Nashville medical community. Every camper who requires hemodialysis is required to bring with them a knowledgeable “home unit” staff person who knows the intricacies of the child’s dialysis treatments and care.
The philosophy of DCI is to be of service to and to exist for the benefit of the ESRD patient. DCI promotes the overall well being of its patients and their families by supporting them in developing lives that are as normal as possible under the circumstances. DCI’s sponsorship of Camp Okawehna is an integral part of the plan to serve the pediatric renal patient.