In a small boat on a lake in Maine, a young summer camper is experiencing a thrill familiar to outdoor enthusiasts everywhere: He’s just caught a fish. It might sound like a typical summer camp experience, but this camper has muscular dystrophy, a musculoskeletal condition in which the muscles progressively weaken.
He’s spending a week at a camp run by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). MDA camps offer campers the chance to bond with peers, try activities that might normally present accessibility barriers and connect one-on-one with a volunteer camp counselor, who provides care and friendship throughout the week.
Through a partnership between the MDA and the American Osteopathic Association, Crystal Cobb, OMS II, served as a volunteer counselor on that memorable fishing excursion last summer. “My camper loves the water, but he doesn’t get the opportunity to go out on a boat often, so getting to fish on the lake was a really big deal for him,” says Cobb, who attends the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Buies Creek, North Carolina.
This summer, the AOA hopes to send 75 osteopathic medical students and DOs as camp volunteers. The MDA offers the weeklong camps at sites across the country at no charge to campers’ families.
Dominic King, DO, visited the MDA camp in Strongsville, Ohio, last summer. “Seeing our osteopathic medical students spreading cheer, hope and support to kids with these difficult musculoskeletal conditions was humbling, touching and empowering,” says Dr. King, who’s an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. “Ultimately, the experience is less about caring for a musculoskeletal disorder and more about just learning to care for another human being.”
For Charles Ebersbacher, OMS II, volunteering at the Strongsville, Ohio, camp was tremendously worthwhile. “My camper turned out to be from my hometown—we attended the same high school,” says Ebersbacher, who attends the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens. “He doesn’t communicate verbally, so it took a little time learning to read his emotions, but it was really rewarding to see how much we grew together in a week.” Ebersbacher plans to return to the Strongsville camp this summer, where he hopes to be paired with the same camper. He’ll be joined by his younger sister, who was inspired to volunteer after hearing Ebersbacher’s stories.
The MDA’s camps offer rich opportunities for DOs and osteopathic medical students alike, Dr. King says. “Volunteering allows DOs and students to care for others outside of a clinical setting and provides a humbling look into the lives of these amazing children, who don’t allow these diseases to control their lives,” he says. “If you’re wondering what you can expect as a volunteer, just seeing the smiles on the campers’ faces shows what a life-changing opportunity this is.”