Dr. Gerald Woods, medical director of Camp Courage, was selected by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) and the Chiefs as the Blue KC Chiefs Kingdom Champion for the September 17, 2017, game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Dr. Woods conducted the ceremonial first pass to Larry Marshall and was recognized on the field prior to kickoff.
Sponsored by Turning Point Center for Hope and Healing, Camp Courage is a five-day, four-night camp for kids with sickle cell disease that allows them to have a summer camp experience while learning about the condition and connecting with others who share in their challenges. As medical director, Woods not only works with a team of nurses and physicians to tend to the medical needs of the campers, but also helps plan and participate in camp activities such as volleyball, horseback riding, fishing and crafts.
"It's rewarding to see patients away from the hospital and enjoying life," said Woods, who helped start the camp more than 25 years ago and has yet to miss a session. "For many patients, camp is their vacation for the summer. There is tremendous value in camps like these for children with chronic illness."
Woods first developed a passion for treating patients with sickle cell disease while completing a fellowship at Duke University School of Medicine. His mentor, Dr. John Falletta, conveyed to him the knowledge, compassion and temperament vital to working with what Woods calls "courageous" patients and families.
When he returned to Kansas City, he noticed that there were camps for children with cancer and hemophilia but none for children with sickle cell. He immediately made the decision to do something about it.
"I felt that it was imperative to have such a camp for sickle cell children," said Woods, who also uses the camp to communicate encouragement to sickle cell patients. "I tell them, 'Pursue your dreams and passion; don't let sickle cell disease define you; and set your own limits.'"
According to Woods, many former campers return to Camp Courage as counselors and mentors to younger patients. Some even go on to pursue careers in the medical field, ready to help others as they were helped themselves.
"It's rewarding to see patients overcome the obstacle of their disease and succeed in professions," said Woods, a Kansas City resident since age 7. "Patients with hematology/oncology disorders, including sickle cell, are doing so much better in terms of longevity and quality of life than they did 20 years ago." When it comes to words to live by, Woods refers back to a simple lesson he learned from his mentor and applies it to his role at Camp Courage.