Kids with asthma find relief at Camp Arroyo


The kids at Camp Arroyo feel like they can do anything in spite of the fact that they have asthma.

"What's not fun is when they're like, 'No you can't do this because you have asthma,'" said camper Miguel Sanchez. "But here, you can do anything."

The counselors at Camp Arroyo are doctors and nurses who treat the kids at Oakland Children's Hospital.

"Asthma is really two things: It's basically the constricting of muscles around the breathing tubes, and it's the swelling that's inside of the breathing tubes," explained Mindy Benson with the hospital.

Ask the kids and they'll tell you: Having an asthma attack can be scary.

"it feels like my chest is being stepped on or something, and it's really tight," said Risa Padilla. "I have to take my inhaler to relieve the muscles in my chest."

The kids all come from the East Bay and live near the Interstate 880 freeway corridor. Hospital officials say they believe pollution from the corridor is one contributing to asthma.

"When we look at the hospitalization data from children who are admitted to the hospital, and we plot their zip codes along a map, we see it's all along the 880 corridor," Benson said.

Compounding the outdoor pollution is the indoor pollution.

"It's also related to the housing stock in Oakland, which there seems to be a high level of mold," Benson said, adding that mold is a big trigger for asthma.

Studies indicate genetics may also play a role in asthma, but the causes don't matter to the kids for this one week because at Camp Arroyo their lives are transformed.

"We teach kids a lot of self-management skills, and that's part of any chronic illness," said Benson.

"The first time I came to camp, it helped me because I got to learn about what was going on, like what my lungs were doing and how to take my medicine correctly to make sure everything would be okay," said Padilla.

The sessions are provided at Camp Arroyo for free thanks to the Taylor Family Foundation, which heard about the I-880 corridor report and reached out to Oakland Children's Hospital to help kids with asthma.

"I knew it was an issue," said Elaine Taylor, "but I didn't know it was life-threatening."

The Taylor Family Foundation has sponsored asthma camps for eight years, in addition to other camps for children with life-threatening illnesses. The foundation has learned to be creative in its approach of finding money to keep the camps going despite a down economy.

"We do really goofy things, from bake sales to lemonade stands," Taylor said. "I go to food shows and solicit for that really cuts the costs of what goes in the kitchen, yet they get a better quality of food."

The food, fun and friendship also help kids overcome the loss of self-esteem caused by the asthma.

"They feel like they can't play the way other kids play," said Benson. "They feel different. They feel a bit isolated."

"You get to meet other kids that are going through the same thing, and you get tips on what to do and stuff," said Padilla.

The Taylor family Foundation's annual "Day in the Park" fundraiser for Camp Arroyo is on Sunday. For more information, visit

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