Kids' chores are supposed to build character, not risk. For that reason, Sharon Burnett no longer lets her 10-year-old son, Cedric, sweep the wooden staircase of their Northeast home. The problem: The dust can aggravate his asthma.
Cedric is precisely the sort of kid the American Lung Association of D.C. aims to send to "Camp Happy Lungs."
The week-long camp is a free, overnight program open to 60 asthmatic District kids ages 7 to 11. Through arts and crafts and other activities, the camp teaches asthma management techniques, ranging from the proper use of medication to ways to limit exposure to asthma triggers such as pet dander and dust.
Cedric's most memorable craft activity at last year's camp: making imitation mucus from corn starch, water and green food coloring. When he was done, a respiratory therapist -- one of about 20 adult volunteers, who include doctors, nurses and parents -- showed campers how adding water makes the stuff less thick. The point: Drinking water regularly can help loosen tight airways, said Lori Taylor, camp director and a respiratory therapist at Washington Hospital Center. But water can't do it alone. What's generally more critical to maintaining air flow, Taylor said, is a daily regimen of medication like bronchial dilators and steroids.
"Once the kids see [that their asthma] can be managed and controlled, they see there's nothing they can't do," she said.
This kind of confidence-building is also integral to the camp experience: Hiking and canoeing expose asthmatic kids to physical challenges their parents may not have previously allowed, for fear of triggering an asthma attack.
At the parent orientation, Cedric's mom said she learned about medication like Advair Diskus and Singulair (a nasal spray and antihistamine). Her son now takes them daily for his asthma and allergies to dust mites -- no more monthly doctor visits, she said.
For campers selected for this summer's program, the orientation session takes place Sunday, July 25, at the Hospital for Sick Children in Northeast. A bus (running on biodiesel fuel -- more asthma-friendly than other types) then leaves for the camp, located in Upper Marlboro. Campers return Friday, July 30, at 5 p.m.
To request an application or learn more, call 202-682-5864, extension 213. The deadline for applications, which include forms to be filled out by a doctor, is 5 p.m., Friday, July 9.
-- Samantha Ganey