MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Camp Oz on the shores of the St. Croix River may seem like your typical camp complete with cabins, a camp counselor’s office, a mess hall, and volleyball and basketball courts. But at Camp Oz most of the children have something in common — they suffer from seizures, and some have epilepsy.
“First time I came to the camp was right after I moved to Arizona. That was in 1992,” Dr. Michael Frost, the camp’s medical director, said. “I love it here, otherwise I wouldn’t be coming. It’s been 22 years.”
The camp caters to boys and girls from ages 9 to 17 who suffer seizures. They have an around-the-clock medical staff. This year they’re celebrating their 31st anniversary.
Since Saturday, campers have been busy rock climbing, horseback riding, swimming and even shooting arrows. Archery is 9-year-old Evan Troski’s favorite activity.
“It’s just fun,” he said. “I’m pretty good. I got three arrows in the thingy.”
It’s Troski’s first year at Camp Oz. He’s been wanting to come for some time, but he wasn’t old enough.
“What made me want to come is listening about all the great things at the camp,” he said. “We’re going horseback riding and we’re also going to go climbing.”
Troski described the staff as “warm-hearted.”
It costs around $1,800 to attend the camp, but campers only pay $200. The rest of the money is paid through donations and foundations like the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.
“We want it to be a fee most people are able to pay and be comfortable with,” said Nikki Baker, Camp Oz’s director. “Some of these kids, their medication fees per month are over $1,800 themselves.”
Baker says this year they had a waiting list because the demand was so high. She says when they can’t provide a spot for a child they refer the child to another camp that takes children with disabilities.
The camp grounds used by Oz are owned by the YMCA. This year they took 110 children, but the camp could house 200.
“I would love to take over this entire camp,” Baker said.
Each cabin has 10 children and a fulltime nurse assigned. The children are carefully watched and they’re medication is closely supervised.
“A lot of our kids can be pretty sheltered only because their parents want to keep them safe, because the possibility of a seizure can happen at any time,” Baker said.
For many of the kids attending Camp Oz, it’s the first time they’ll meet someone else with epilepsy. And many have never witnessed someone else have a seizure.
“They definitely feel like they’re not the only ones with seizures and they also see how people react,” Frost said. “Out here we try to down play because there really isn’t much to do. They don’t have to call 911 when someone has a seizure, they don’t have to get frantic.”
Fifteen-year old Katlyn Woehnker has been coming to Camp Oz for the last eight years. She said when she first attended camp she was very shy, but the camp has helped her open up and make lifelong friends.
“It’s good to interact with people who are kind of close to you, like same issues,” she said.
Friday, June 20 is the last day of Camp Oz until next year.