Camps mix hoops, health for children with asthma
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A Pittsburgh basketball camp for kids that shoots for a greater understanding of asthma is expanding to a second location far east of the city, at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Cambria County.
Physical activity is important for children with asthma. However, if the condition isn't treated correctly, they often miss out on the fun.
It's easy to understand why the children don't participate in sports, said Dr. David Skoner, asthma specialist at Allegheny General Hospital's Division of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology.
"Exercise triggers [asthma] symptoms in 90 percent" of children with asthma, he said. Sometimes parents don't even know why it is their child is not interested in sports, he said.
"We've got to find a way to get these kids exercising," he said. "Not exercising leads to rising obesity and makes asthma worse."
The two camps are recruiting children from throughout the region. Both combine asthma education and basketball skills.
The new camp is a partnership between AGH and the university's DiSepio Institute for Rural Health and Wellness. Other community health organizations are involved as well. Basketball skills are taught by the university's head basketball coach, Bobby Jones, and his players.
The free camp, for boys and girls ages 8 through 12, will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Stokes Athletic Center on the Saint Francis campus. Students from the physical therapy and physician assistant science programs will help.
The program includes asthma medical screening, question-and-answer sessions with doctors for parents and children, and other testing (blood pressure and cholesterol checks, sugar screens, body mass index calculations and grip-strength testing).
Dr. Skoner said the talks with doctors are key to the program.
"We're there to talk about asthma. We're also there to deal with any asthma attacks that may come up at camp." Some children aren't accustomed to vigorous exercise, he explained, but the camps have nebulizers, inhalers and lung function equipment for emergencies.
He said the program aims to help parents and children modify their behavior to try to control the asthma. In turn, they hope the children will improve school attendance -- absences are high among asthma patients -- and join in on school sports activities.
The camp, Dr. Skoner said, gives the children the skills they need: "We give them the ability, desire and confidence to compete."
The original free annual basketball camp directed by AGH will be held once again at St. Bede's School in Point Breeze, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 17.
Open to boys and girls ages 8 through 13, basketball instruction is led by Dave Roman, former University of Pittsburgh All-American player. Asthma education is overseen by Dr. Skoner and Dr. Deborah Gentile, also of AGH.
"Dave Roman is one of the best basketball teachers in the country," Dr. Skoner said. "He teaches them to shoot, dribble and pass. ... They get good at it. We put these kids through vigorous exercise. We prove to the parents and the children that they can endure this workout."
Duquesne University School of Pharmacy students provide screenings and Drs. Skoner and Gentile answer questions from parents and children.
Dr. Skoner said he hopes they have a waiting list beyond the 120 or so that the St. Bede camp can accommodate.
"If we demonstrate a need, we can have more [one-day sports/asthma camps]," he said. "I'd love to see these camps grow throughout the region, for basketball, soccer, in every season."
Registration for the Saint Francis camp is needed by Oct. 6; call 814-472-2783. To sign up for the St. Bede camp, call Tim Schaffner at 412-359-4043.
First Published October 3, 2007 12:00 am