A Personal Look at Health IT and Pediatric Cancer

Gary Palgon

Twenty-two years ago, I started volunteering as a summer camp counselor. Now, this was not just any camp -- it was Camp Sunshine, a wonderful organization that offers summer camp experiences as well as year-round programs to Georgia children who have been diagnosed with cancer. Every program gives pediatric cancer patients a chance to be a normal kid – even while undergoing treatment.

This year there were over 450 children during the two-week summer session and I attended during Teen Week (13- to 18-year-olds). My cabin had nine boys – all 14 years old. Eight of them were campers in our cabin last year and one was new to Camp Sunshine’s Teen Week. When they arrived in our cabin, it was like they had not been apart for a year – best friends once again!

Over the years, the organization has had to expand programs to include older children as research has increased the survivorship of many pediatric cancers, including brain cancer. I am so grateful for the role that healthcare IT has played in the lifesaving clinical research that makes it possible for the so many kids to return each year. When I began working as a camp counselor, I never imagined the impact that health IT and now, IoT would play in the lives of "our kids."

For the past few years, campers have been given wearable technology that records their activity and allows the camp medical staff to better understand the relationship between their medical treatment – which they continue at camp – and their activity levels. In the future, through this research and analysis, staff, parents and caregivers can to make adjustments based on the individual camper’s needs – personalized medicine along with horseback riding, arts and crafts, archery and everything else normally found at a summer camp!

There are no words that can adequately explain the range of emotions that volunteers experience at camp. Watching these children face incredible medical challenges but come back each year to share their experience with each other and to have fun is heartwarming. Even more amazing is the fact that about 30 percent of the camp counselors are former Camp Sunshine campers who want to return to counsel and guide these youngsters through their journey.

Every time that I see these former campers -- as counselors and out in the world as successful young men and women -- I am witnessing the power of health IT.