Breadcrumbs Navigation

Home > News & Publications > News and Communications > News > Sick Kids Find Fun at Camp K

DURHAM, N.C. -- Sailing, swimming and sleeping outdoors are normal childhood rituals at summer camp, but serious illness keeps some children from joining the fun. A special camp run by Duke Children's Hospital allows sick kids to enjoy the same activities and freedom as other campers.

Camp K is a residential camp for children treated at Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center. More than 1,000 children and teens with chronic and terminal illnesses have attended Camp K since it opened in 1979.

Many of the kids at Camp K are away from their home and parents for the first time. They learn to swim and survive in cabins with no air-conditioning. They play sports and practice art and crafts. The camp also provides a respite for parents who may become overwhelmed by the complex medical needs of sick children.

The directors and counselors at Camp K are professionals and volunteers associated with Duke University Medical Center, including physicians, nurses, social workers, development staff, child life therapists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, pharmacists and medical students. The camp lasts three weeks in July; each week is targeted to a different age group. Attending Camp K is free and is funded through donations to Duke Children's.

Camp K received a national award for innovation in the 1980s. It is believed to be the only program in the country that brings together children with a variety of medical problems – most camps that focus on sick children specialize in a particular disease, said Bill Taub, camp director and a clinical social worker with Duke Children's Cystic Fibrosis Center.

"The first goal of Camp K is to provide a camp experience for kids who can't have it any other way for reasons relating having an illness," Taub said. "We're also trying to help these children become more independent and build social and other skills," he said.

Camp Kaleidoscope was founded by Tom Kinney, M.D., the late Brandy McDaniel and Kathy Merritt, M.D. Kinney, now the Wilburt C. Davison Professor of Pediatrics, was then a new faculty member in pediatrics. McDaniel was head of the pediatric social work program, and Merritt was director of Duke Hospital's Child Life Program.