A simple summer camp sleepover meant the world to Louise Darrah and her son.
Darrah, a Johnstown resident, said raising her son Ian, who has diabetes, was often a terrifying experience. She said letting Ian stay over at a summer camp would have been impossible if not for Nathan Littauer Hospital’s Camp SuperStarrs. The camp is supervised by a Nathan Littauer physician, respiratory therapist, registered nurse and a registered dietician.
“That was the only night of the year that I could sleep, because I knew my son was safe,” Darrah said.
This summer is the 30th anniversary of Nathan Littauer Hospital’s Camp SuperStarrs, a two-week summer camp program for children with disabilities or chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, allergies and cystic fibrosis.
The camp is located on Lake Woodworth in Bleecker, at a campsite Nathan Littauer Hospital leases from the Boy Scouts of America. The hospital provides daily bus transportation to and from the camp as well as breakfast and lunch. Cost of attendance is about $40. It was founded in 1979 by respiratory therapist Wayne McNeil and Dr. David Clough.
Assistant Camp Director Susan McNeil, Wayne McNeil’s wife, said the original idea was to provide a safe summer day camp, with one night of sleepover, for children with asthma. She said over the years the camp expanded its capabilities to provide a safe environment for children with many ailments.
At the camp, children participate in fishing, arts and crafts, swimming and sports like kickball. They also learn about proper nutrition, how to properly use inhalers as well as identify the triggers of asthma attacks and other strategies to cope with illness.
Susan McNeil said this year the camp will have 43 children ranging in age from five to 14. She said in more than 30 years she’s known campers to become close friends, some participating in each other’s weddings. She said some former campers enjoy the camp so much they return as camp counselors once they are old enough.
“With them coming back as counselors they still relate to the little guys who have whatever disorder they had. They can say ‘look at me, I have diabetes, I’m asthmatic and yet I play soccer,’ ” she said.
Matthew Deering, 19, of Johnstown, said he became a camp counselor when he was 15 and he’s been coming to the camp since he was five years old. He said he has diabetes and he’s always enjoyed the camp in part because of the connections he’s formed with other campers.
“You make a lot of friends. You know that you’re not alone,” he said.
Courtney Kwiatkowski, 19 of Johnstown, has spina bifida and walks with the assistance of crutches.
She said when she first came to the camp when she was 5 she was in a wheelchair.
She said participating in the camp motivated her to get out of the wheelchair and now she tries to do the same thing for other kids in wheelchairs who have the ability to walk with assistance.
“I try to encourage them to walk more and keep their strength up, so they don’t get weak,” she said.
Nathan Littauer Public Relations Coordinator Cheryl McGrattan said most of the children who attend the camp have been referred by their physicians.
She said the hospital also uses the camp as a social support system for sick children.
She said typically a Camp SuperStarrs veteran who has to spend a night at the hospital can expect a visit from someone they know from the camp.
Nathan Littauer Hospital President and CEO Laurence E. Kelly said he is extremely proud of the success of the Camp SuperStarrs program.
“Every child should be able to say, ‘This year I am going to summer camp, too.’ regardless of their health limitations,” he s