Campfires, tents -- and dialysis

Times Staff Writer

Even though Jeannette Castaneda was 22, she couldn’t wait to get back to summer camp in Mammoth last August. Although she was looking forward to her favorite hike to Rainbow Falls and just being outdoors, she was most excited about returning as a first-time counselor.

Jeannette, who at 16 received a kidney transplant five months before her first time at camp, decided to become a counselor because she wanted to help other kidney patients have as good a time as she did that year.

“I realized it was OK to be sick and be young and feeling the way I was. It was really hard,” Jeannette, now 23, remembers. As a counselor, Jeannette was determined to help other kidney patients feel less shy with dialysis and was able to share her transplant experience. “ I just wanted to help out and explain it’s OK to feel shy or scared,” she said.


About 30 kidney patients, ages 14 to 21, join more than 100 North Valley YMCA campers for a week at Camp David in Mammoth each summer, sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California in collaboration with the YMCA.

“The great thing is that our children can go to the camp and have a YMCA experience,” said Linda Small, executive director of the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California. “They do everything from the campfires, to bonding, to actually sleeping in tents.”

Kidney patients usually connect to a dialysis machine at home each night for a minimum of 10 hours, according to Barbara Gales, a camp nurse for 16 years and research clinical coordinator at UCLA.

Because campers sleep in tents with no electricity, Gales and her team set up a medical facility where the young people can get peritoneal dialysis, a manual treatment in which internal “exchanges” of fluid are done using a catheter four times per day, lasting up to 40 minutes each exchange.

“We take the place of the machine,” Gales said. “It gives them the opportunity to be a real kid. Our kids can go off and be on a hike or go boating.”

This summer, Jeannette hopes to make it back to camp again as a counselor. “It’s a good place to be, especially when it’s the first time. I just show them around and tell them, ‘Don’t be afraid to be yourself.’ ”

Thanks to the $1.7 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, about 8,000 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.

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