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TIMES CAMP FUND

Teen with asthma will get her wish

The girl helps her father care for her disabled mother. Now she'll get a break at a special San Diego camp.

June 17, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Pennie Komatz, 13, has desperately wanted to go to camp for the last three years. The first year, the asthmatic teen, who cares for her disabled mother, only made it to the waiting list. The second year, her mom was hospitalized and forgot to file the camp application.

"She put her arms around me and said, 'That's OK, Mom. You're more important than camp.' Later that night I could hear her crying; it broke my heart," Pamela Komatz wrote earlier this year in a letter to the American Lung Assn. of Orange County. "I sincerely hope that this year she finally gets to have her dream come true."

Finally, Pennie will.

Later this month, she'll be at Camp Marston in San Diego, making new friends who, like her, have asthma. In fact, she is already packed and ready to go.

Her cash-strapped parents wouldn't be able to send Pennie without help from the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Fund. Komatz said they barely get by on her husband's salary.

"She needs her time away," Komatz said. "She needs to just be a kid and do what ordinary kids do."

Pennie spends a lot of time in the family's three-bedroom apartment. Her frequent asthma attacks used to keep her home from school so often that three years ago her mother started home-schooling her.

Although Pennie's asthma improved, her mother's health declined because of osteoarthritis, which means she has to use a wheelchair and sometimes must stay in bed.

Komatz, 47, was healthy when she and her husband adopted the newborn Pennie, whose birth mother used drugs. "I set out to give her a gift, which would be saving her from a background that would be pretty bad," said Komatz, who has two grown daughters. "I never dreamed that she would turn around and help me a hundredfold."

Pennie prepares meals and cares for Tec, the dog specially trained to help her mother with shopping and household chores. She also helps her mother dress. Her father takes over after work and on weekends.

Camp will be the first time the video game lover will be away from her parents for more than a few days. They feel at ease knowing the camp has a staff of doctors, nurses and equipment to monitor the kids.

The love of her parents, who are white, has left an indelible mark on the African American teenager, who dreams of one day running her own agency for interracial adoptions. "There are a lot of kids out there that don't really have what I have," she said.

This year, approximately 11,000 children will experience a special summer, thanks to the $1.4 million raised last year.

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The annual fund-raising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar. Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit card donations, visit www.latimes.com/summer camp. To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash. Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times.

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