Second Wind Asthma Camp looks at air quality

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 16, 2011

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — For some, the Air Quality Index means little. But spend three days at Second Wind Asthma Camp and you may realize that — for those with asthma — it’s an important guideline.
As those at the seventh-annual asthma camp greeted WSOC-TV Channel 9 meteorologist Katie Virtue at Dan Nicholas Park, she asked, “Can anybody tell me what code yellow air quality means?”
Nine-year-old Emerson McMillin answered quickly Wednesday: “It’s OK to breathe.”
Virtue spent about an hour answering questions and explaining the importance of the Air Quality Index for those affected by asthma.
According to Gretchen McCall, a five-year volunteer and nurse at Salisbury Pediatrics Associates, air quality is something that really affects kids with asthma.
“If the air quality is orange or purple, they’ll have to take more breaks,” McCall said. “It doesn’t mean they can’t do things that other kids do.”
Almost all campers are also patients at Salisbury Pediatrics and the camp’s creator, Christopher Magryta, sees most of the kids as their pediatrician.
Magryta said the camp has grown and changed over the past seven years, but he wants to continue to keep it at a relatively small size.
“The smallness is what makes it such a special experience for the kids,” Magryta said.
Magryta said he hopes the camp “goes on forever” and that it can continue to evolve to further help asthma patients.
“We add new ways kids can understand their disease,” Magryta said, “and learn how to be healthy.”
Magryta said the camp still maintains a focus on asthma, but that now campers participate in exercises to learn about health in general.
“The healthy eating is one of the biggest changes,” Gretchen McCall said. “Last year was the first year we invited the parents to come.”
Ms. G, as she’s known to the kids, McCall said she loves volunteering at the camp and that she feels connected to them.
“I know these kids,” McCall said. “I’ve known them for five years.”
Liz Ridenhour, respiratory therapist at Rowan Regional Medical Center and volunteer recruiter for the camp, said she’s thrilled to be a part of the event.
“It’s an exceptional camp,” Ridenhour said. “I just wanted to help with the kids. It’s been really fun.”
Ridenhour said the camp and Salisbury Pediatrics help to educate kids with asthma and help them manage the disease.
“The children’s clinic does a great job of keeping the kids well and they don’t often come into the hospital,” Ridenhour said.
Emerson McMillin, a rising third-grader at Granite Quarry Elementary, said it’s her second year at the camp and that she expects to be back again next year.”
“I very much enjoy it. They taught me how to stay healthy,” McMillin said.
McMillin said she’s previously struggled with asthma, but she said the camp has helped her and fellow campers feel better about the disease.
“Sometimes I have trouble breathing and wheezing,” McMillin said. “I think it helps the other kids here, too.”
McMillin’s friend and schoolmate, Gracie Hudson, said she’s already learned several ways to combat asthma, despite this being her first year attending.
“I like the fun activities that help me know when to take my inhaler,” the 10-year-old said. “They tell me, when I’m wheezing, I need to take it and then they help me with my asthma.”
Hudson said every day she participates in a fun activity and it helps her learn how to stay healthy.
“Yesterday we went gem mining and today we are going to do a hike,” Hudson said.
Hudson said they haven’t discussed asthma at school, but that she thinks there are a lot of kids who have it.
“There’s probably a lot of kids at school who have asthma,” Hudson said. “When I go to P.E., I bring my inhaler just in case.”
Erron Townes, a pediatrician and one of the camp’s volunteers, said some young asthma patients might not ask for help when they need it because they’re embarrassed.
“I think it means a lot for them to be able to socialize with other (kids who have) asthma,” Townes said. “They don’t have to hide it.”
Eight-year-old Marcellus Davis, a first-time camper, said he struggles with asthma and that doing yoga at camp has helped his breathing.
“I like the yoga, because it helps me get my lungs and my stomach and other parts of my body in shape, so I can breathe better and so I can exercise,” Davis said.
McCall said the camp is free and transportation is provided, but children must register ahead of time.