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A Big "Wheezer Cheer"

Dec 30, 2016, 14:19 PM by Nicole Young
Dr. Liebhaber
This summer will be the 38th year Camp Wheez, a free summer experience for children with asthma, will serve youth in Santa Barbara. It was founded by Dr. Myron Liebhaber (pictured), a pediatric allergist & immunologist at Sansum Clinic for over 30 years. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had,” he admits. “If I couldn’t see kids, I don’t think I would come to work. Kids are my passion.”

The very first Camp Wheez participants chose the name back in 1977 and it’s been cherished ever since. Fifteen year-old camp counselor Patrick Spencer (below) describes his first camp week as a second-grader as transformational. “I was sold,” he says with a grin. “It opened up my world just seeing how asthma affects people and learning about the large population of those who have it. It made me feel less singled out. Some of his favorite camp memories include kickball games, tie-dying t-shirts and ‘lung lab,’ a hands-on science lesson. Patrick is no longer bothered by asthma. He’s a member of the Dos Pueblos High School track and field team, and will volunteer for his second summer as a counselor this August. “I like to be able to make some kid laugh or have the same experience that I did,” adds the teenager. “I’ll definitely keep coming back.”
Patrick Spencer Camp Counselor
Dr. Liebhaber is the camp’s volunteer medical director every summer. He leads the ‘wheezer cheer’ each morning and takes great pride in presenting his humble magic skills during morning announcements, complete with his “Myron the Mundane’ satin cape. “That is my stage name, that’s how good I am,” he jokes. “You’ve never seen such corny magic, but it’s fun.”

Margaret Weiss, director of Camp Wheez and health education director for Sansum Clinic, believes Dr. Liebhaber may be the happiest camper of all. “Thousands of children have been to camp because of him,” she says. “He helps them to feel confident in managing their asthma, and in running, playing and enjoying all the things kids should be able to enjoy.”

Camp Wheez provides parents peace of mind by staffing a volunteer doctor, nurse and respiratory therapist each day. These medical professionals understand the special challenges campers face. They pay attention to allergies and are familiar with the common medicines and treatments for asthma. Families are invited to attend an education workshop and Q&A session with doctors at the end of the week.

Dr. Liebhaber attributes the longevity of Camp Wheez to the more than 40 volunteers and a large group of sponsors, including the Barbara N. Rubin Foundation, the Swanton Foundation, Marcel Sassola and Santa Barbara Specialty Pharmacy. The First Baptist Church of Santa Barbara offered the camp a very special rate to use their facility since its inception. The space has a playground, classrooms, kitchen and an auditorium, and fits the needs of the camp perfectly. The Boys & Girls Club provides after-care for campers whose parents need coverage in the afternoons, and Easy Lift Transportation provides rides.

All of this generosity means children can attend for free. “I say only in Santa Barbara could we do something like this. We’ve done it year in and out because the community supports it,” says Dr. Liebhaber.

Debbie Weeks, a parent and grandparent of children with asthma, agrees that an expense-free activity brings real relief for families. “You are struggling with finances, you have expenses from doctor and ER visits and prescriptions, and the last thing you can afford is camp,” she reasons. Weeks joined Camp Wheez as a volunteer when she was a school teacher in the 1980s and her children were young. As the former executive director of the American Lung Association of Santa Barbara & Ventura Counties, she saw first-hand the impact created by Dr. Liebhaber and his camp over the past 20 years.

Learn more about Camp Wheez and download an application >

Applications can also be picked up at the Sansum Clinic Allergy Department at 215 Pesetas Lane in Santa Barbara. Or call (805) 681-7500 ext. 8754.