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Karen Murdoch (far left) and members of the Camp Purple Live medical team receive their volunteer award from Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman (second from right) at Government House in Wellington earlier this month.Supplied.

Karen Murdoch describes her voluntary work at Camp Purple Live, organised by Crohn’s & Colitis NZ Charitable Trust, as a “humbling experience" and "quite addictive”.

That is how the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board  (HBDHB) Inflammatory Bowel Disease/Gastroenterology nurse, who attended both the inaugural children’s camp last year and this year’s held outside Christchurch in January, talks about the way the children on the camp deal with their diseases.

Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are chronic autoimmune diseases that affect the digestive system, and are collectively known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

IBD can cause debilitating pain, hospitalisations, repeat surgeries and a severely reduced quality of life, including for the growing number of children diagnosed with the disease, missed school days. There can also be social isolation due to the disease and/or symptoms. More efficient diagnosis and, it is believed, undetermined environmental factors have led to a growing population of sufferers. Unfortunately, New Zealand now has the highest incidence of IBD in the world per capita.

“Poo, bowel habits, it’s not a subject people want to talk about, therefore IBD is not really in the public domain,” Karen says matter-of-factly.

During the five-day Camp Purple Live attended by nine to 16-year-old sufferers of IBD (pictured below), their conditions are “normalised”, Karen says.

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Even the medicines which control their conditions are part of the normal day, handed out with breakfast, lunch and dinner by a voluntary medical team of four gastroenterologists and five specialist nurses.

Earlier this month the camp's voluntary medical team, from all over New Zealand, were joint winners in the Health Care Provider Service Team Volunteers category at the Minister of Health Volunteer Awards held at Government House in Wellington.

Karen was on hand for the accolade, but the HBDHB colleague she inspired to tag along this year, Dr Malcolm Arnold (senior medical officer, gastroenterology), could not make it due to work commitments.

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Hawke’s Bay District Health Board (HBHDB) Camp Purple Live volunteers, Karen Murdoch and Dr Malcolm Arnold.

Karen and Malcolm gave up a week’s leave to attend the camp; Karen is on the organising committee, and both have been involved in fundraising to contribute to the $65,000 needed to hold it.

This year’s camp was entirely free of charge, including airfares, for the 48 children who attended. The team also organised a two-day seminar for 25 parents to provide education, support and an opportunity to network with other caregivers.

Karen says the camp offers the children a social network, including older teenagers who come back as volunteers.

“The social effects of IBD are huge - a lot of these kids are bullied,” she says. “Many of these children had never been to a camp before because of their disease. Unlike a school camp, everyone at this camp is receiving medical treatment, so they get the chance to feel like any other child or teenager.

“The camp builds self-confidence, independence, self-esteem, resilience and empowerment. All the things that kids get from camps. However the key difference is that they are doing this in a safe and supportive environment, geared to children with IBD.

“It is wonderful to see the growth in their confidence through the week. It is a humbling experience for us as medical people… quite addictive.”

As the camp is full of the rough and tumble activity associated with any children’s camp – including abseiling, kayaking, confidence courses and high swings - the medical staff are there to deal with the occasional accident, as well as dish out medicine and deal with flare ups in the children’s conditions.

Karen says she hopes the award will “increase awareness that this condition can affect children, because it is not known in the public domain” and, of course, help to raise funds for future camps.

She points out that the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board has played a role in the two camps to date, donating the majority of the necessary medical supplies, while staff have generously supported other fundraising activities.

If you would like to donate towards the 2017 Camp Purple Live go tohttps://givealittle.co.nz/org/camppurple

Footnote: The 2016 Minister of Health Volunteer Awards recognised and celebrated the invaluable contributions of volunteers to the health and disability sector in New Zealand, both in individual and team categories. To view all winners go to:
http://volunteerawards.health.govt.nz

Crohn’s & Colitis Hawke’s Bay Support Group:
http://crohnsandcolitis.org.nz/Hawkes+Bay+Support+Group

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