MAY 2010

INSIDE STORIES
 

Back row (left to right): Jenny Hu, M.D., Quyn Sherrod, M.D., Scott Worswick, M.D., Emma Taylor, M.D., Jamie McInturff, M.D. Front row (left to right): Ray Jalian, M.D., Jamie Zussman, M.D., Jenny Kim, M.D., Ph.D., Nima Gharavi, M.D.

 

Camp Wonder Celebrates 10 years of Helping Kids with Serious Skin Diseases

By some estimates, skin diseases affect 50 percent or more of the population. But while some people experience only mild skin problems, others suffer from conditions that are serious or even fatal. For children in particular, living with these diseases can be life-altering. Each year, Camp Wonder offers children affected by the staring, stigma and isolation often associated with skin diseases one week when they can just be kids.

“There is a misconception that if you have a skin disease, you are dirty or infectious,” says UCLA dermatologist Jenny Kim, M.D., Ph.D., a co-founder of Camp Wonder. “Many children affected by serious skin diseases are not able to attend regular summer camps because they may face ridicule and teasing from their peers and because the time and effort required to attend to their skin conditions would potentially overwhelm camp counselors who lack medical training.”

Some campers, for example, suffer from epidermolysis bullosa, an illness that causes the skin to be so fragile that it can be easily injured or infected if not properly wrapped, while others suffer from conditions ranging from ichthyosis (in which the skin may resemble fish scales) and vitiligo (in which white patches appear all over the skin) to severe acne, psoriasis and eczema.

Established in 2001, Camp Wonder hosts 70 children, 7 to 15 years old, with serious skin diseases for one week in late June of each year. In addition, it allows teens and young adults 16 years and older with severe skin disorders to serve as camp counselors. During that time, children engage in typical summer camp fun – including swimming, horseback riding, boating, arts and crafts and various sporting activities – under the care and supervision of approximately 50 medical staff including physicians, nurses and medical students, and an additional 50 non-clinical volunteers. As the Camp Wonder team prepares to celebrate their 10th anniversary this summer, Dr. Kim marvels at how important the camp has become to the children and families it serves.

“By the end of the week, many kids tell us they don’t want to go home, and their parents tell us their kids count the days until they can return to camp the next year,” Dr. Kim says. “The camp also gives other family members a much-needed respite from providing constant care and attention to these children.” Dr. Kim notes that Camp Wonder would not be possible without support from the UCLA Department of Medicine and Division of Dermatology, which has supported the program from its inception, and volunteer physicians, nurses and students from UCLA and other organizations including USC, UCSF, UCI, and Stanford. Dr. Kim says she hopes their combined efforts will bring awareness to the issue of skin diseases.

“Skin is the largest organ in the body, but kids with skin diseases are sometimes forgotten,” Dr. Kim says. “We hope to emphasize the importance of increasing research funding so that we may develop better drugs, and eventually a cure, for skin diseases.”