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Asthma camp is a breath of fresh air

With inhalers in tow, kids can meet others with the same condition and safely play together in the mountains.

June 08, 2007|Amy Kaufman | Times Staff Writer

Asthma and the outdoors: With the threat of pollen, dust or even the thick, sordid Los Angeles smog, it would seem the two were an unlikely pair.

"A lot of people ask, 'Why do you even have a camp for kids with asthma when there are 10 million triggers in nature?' " said Wanda Luong, program manager for the American Lung Assn. of California, referring to Southern California Asthma Medical Program Camp. "But when kids get to camp, their symptoms aren't a problem. I'm not sure if it's being in a new environment or state of mind, but whatever it is when these kids get to camp, they're different."

Roman Villavicencio, 12, was certainly altered by heading to Julian in the mountains east of San Diego for a week last summer, where he was one of 100 kids, ages 8 to 14, afflicted by asthma.

Typically shy, Roman spent time rolling about on mountain scooters and climbing rock walls while also learning more about his condition through educational displays, including the dissection of pig lungs.

"I learned that when people are smoking, you should get away from them, 'cause it's bad for your lungs," Roman said. "I mean, I don't want to have a heart attack or something."

Roman's father, a day laborer, makes minimum wage to support his son, wife and two other children at their home in North Hollywood.

"He is a very good kid but never had the chance to go out with friends because [of] our financial situation," Roman's mother, Rosa, told a Spanish-speaking staff member at the American Lung Assn. of California. "It is too expensive for our family to pay that much money to go to camp.... [W]e were fortunate to get one scholarship, and that was a blessing for my family."

Ultimately, the asthma camp hopes to inspire a sense of community missing from a child's individual plight.

"Sometimes these kids feel like they're the only ones with asthma, unless they happen to see another kid at the nurse's office getting an inhaler," Luong said. "Some kids are nervous or embarrassed because they have to take their medicine with them at all times. At camp, they meet others like them and can all relate to the same problems."

The American Lung Assn. of California is one of 60 organizations receiving financial support this year through the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign. More than 8,000 underprivileged children will go to camp this summer, thanks to $1.5 million raised last year. The annual fundraising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1.1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make donations by credit card, go To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash. Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $50 or more will be acknowledged in The Times.

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