BY MARY BROPHY MARCUS
This is the third of profiles of oncologists discussing how they unwind during the summer months -- check out the entire series here -- From traveling to music festivals and hidden oases to growing organic gardens and cycling to raise research funds, the profiles show the rich and diverse interests and unique experiences cancer experts have beyond their clinic and lab doors. Share your own summer vacation stories and photos with us on Twitter! Use #OTSummerVaca and we'll retweet.
Orly Klein, MD
Orly Klein's summer plans sound a lot like what's on the docket for thousands of kids across America: she's heading to summer camp. But she won't be attending as a camper. Klein, a pediatric oncologist and bone marrow transplant researcher, is the Medical Director of Johns Hopkins’ Camp Sunrise, an overnight camp for children ages 4 to 18 who have cancer or who are pediatric cancer survivors.
"I got involved in the camp three ago when I started my fellowship at Hopkins, and I really loved it. I thought it was amazing that the kids I was treating in the hospital were able to run around and be normal kids. In life, everyone sees them as fragile, and at camp, the kids can just be kids without any limitations," said Klein, a Johns Hopkins Hospital/National Institutes of Health Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinical Fellow.
Normally, Klein spends one day a week in clinic and four days in the lab, but for the past three summers she has stepped away from the office to work at the camp, located near Annapolis, Maryland, and now in its 29th year.
Camp Sunrise hosts about 120 campers and 20 counselors-in-training. The staff is all-volunteer and about two-thirds of the staff are former campers who have been through treatments similar to those the campers are going through, Klein explains.
"Some of our counselors were treated when they were four years old and are now here as camp directors 28 years later."
Her job as medical director involves running the camp's clinic, nicknamed "the funny farm" years ago. It serves the daily medical needs of the 20 percent of campers who are actively going through cancer treatment as well as the health needs of the other children.
"We do all of the things we do at the hospital – chemotherapy, IV medications, blood transfusions, lab draws, and oral medications – for cancer, and for other conditions, like allergies or asthma. We also take care of the usual camp things, mostly cuts and scrapes and bug bites," said Klein, adding that last year, about 100 campers out of 140 required daily medications.
Doctors from The Johns Hopkins Hospital work one or more 12-hour shifts to help out. Each day, helpers from Hopkins ferry needed medicines and blood products from the hospital, a 45-minute drive away, to the camp and transport labs from the camp to the hospital.
While she spends much of her time in the infirmary, Klein says in the last year or two she's had more of a chance to step away now and again and visit the campers as they climb the rock wall, play archery, and swim, among other summery activities.
She is also part of Camp Sunrise's planning committee, which meets once a month throughout the year to brainstorm themes and activities for camp week in August.
"This summer's theme is 'Movie Madness' and each day is a different movie theme. We're bringing in a stunt show, and we have a comedy day with an improv group and an artist for caricatures. There will be an inflatable movie screen and popcorn," says Klein, who stays the full week, 24/7, in her own cabin while the other medical volunteers come and go in shifts.
"Sometimes I wish I could be a camp counselor. That would be so much more fun than giving chemo." But Klein says she relishes her job and the happiness the summer experience brings the campers and their families.
"It's so motivating for me to see all of these kids getting to be normal kids, and so many of them say it's the best week of their life. I feel the same. My experience at camp motivates me for the rest of the year as I work on my research," said Klein, whose bone marrow transplant research explores what causes some patients to have lung injury from treatment – why the treatment doesn't work for everyone, and how lung injury can be prevented and treated.
She says, "Sometimes you get so caught up in work you forget it's good to have fun, and camp is a really nice way to do that."
Klein (middle) with other members of the Camp Sunrise Medical Staff