J. Brent Kooistra, MD
After visiting a Minnesota summer camp for children with asthma, allergist J. Brent Kooistra of Madison, WI, knew he wanted to start his own. Five years after finishing his residency, he did just that.
Kooistra held the first session of Camp WIKIDAS (WIsconsin KIDs with ASthma) in 1982. Some 30 children attended the one-week program. WIKIDAS recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with a 90-camper capacity.
The 8- to 13-year-old boys and girls all take daily asthma medication. "The camp is an educational stepping stone for kids to learn about their asthma, gain self-confidence, self-awareness," and understand their medications and illness, says the 55-year-old physician. "There's no need to hide your asthma," he tells campers, many of whom are away from home for the first time. "No need to be embarrassed. Relax and have a good time."
The asthma program rents the 400-acre camp facility for one week every summer. The facility provides the counselors, food service, activities, and camp directors for the program. It is Kooistra who finds the volunteer RNs, LPNs, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and pediatric allergists to serve as medical support and teachers. Campers spend mornings learning about asthma, and afternoons participating in swimming, arts and crafts, canoeing, and the like.
Thanks to grants from various organizations including the American Lung Association, campers pay only one-third of what costs would be without funding. This year's tuition was $230, but Kooistra says no child with asthma has ever been turned away. He provides partial and full "camperships" (reduced or free tuition) for these children.
Kooistra was honored in 2001 as Physician Citizen of the Year from the Wisconsin Medical Society for his work. He's also been honored by the campers, who've affectionately dubbed him "Doc Kootie," a name he takes in stride.
"Camp is basically a year-round activity for me," Kooistra says. The summer camp has led to a three-day winter "mini-camp" as well. In addition to his full-time job as an allergist in private practice, he's also the medical director of a weekly asthma clinic for the medically underserved in Madison, where patients receive free care and medication from volunteer medical providers.
But it's the summer camp that Kooistra describes as "one of the highlights of my life, no question about it." He hopes that WIKIDAS will inspire the creation of similar camps in other states.
"This guy is busy as can be and he takes time to bring these kids into the camp and teach them how to manage their asthma," says Steve Busalacchi, public information officer for the Wisconsin Medical Society and one of Kooistra's patients. Busalacchi echoes the words of patients, kids, and parents across the state of Wisconsin: Meeting Dr. Kooistra means "I've been breathing better ever since."
"The spirit of the kids playing and interacting with other children is overwhelming," Kooistra says. He pauses for a moment, then sums it all up just like any kid back from a week at camp: "Pretty cool."
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