A very special event takes place this Saturday, Oct. 1 from 3 to 6 p.m. at Doc Ryan’s: the 7th Annual Terese Klein Fundraiser to support Camp Oasis. This year it’s a Pig Roast. Supporters pay $40 for unlimited food, beer and wine. So far, these events have raised over $125,000 for Camp Oasis, one of 16 operated nationwide by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).
The word “oasis” is among the most beautiful in the English language. It evokes the image of a lush place in the midst of a desert. It also means “something that provides relief from a dreary routine.” Children who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) know about dreary routine. The disease is debilitating, isolating and leaves physical as well as emotional scars. That is why the CCFA created places like Camp Oasis, in Lauderdale, Wisconsin, near the shores of Lake Geneva.
The camp provides a safe, supportive environment for the IBD sufferers. Campers find they are not alone with their disease. They can literally share “inside” jokes and try new sports and outdoor activities. They make friends and develop confidence and independence. They get to put aside their difficulties and just be kids again. The camp is staffed with volunteer physicians and nurses. Counselors lead the kids in activities, from creating art to engaging in land and water sports to finding outdoor adventure.
Klein, who had battled Crohn’s Disease from the age of 7 on, came to Camp Oasis in its first year of operation. By then, she was old enough to serve as a counselor, the only counselor on staff for the entire history of the camp. Klein thrived there, according to her mom, Marie Moroney, and it became the highlight of her summer. Even when her disease flared up, she could charm doctors to allow her to go to camp.
When she was 11, Klein was also diagnosed with liver disease. At 25, someone at camp noticed Klein’s eyes had become yellow. She was found to be suffering from the same form of cancer that took Walter Payton’s life. Klein scheduled her chemotherapy, so that it wouldn’t interfere with her going to Camp Oasis. She died from cancer in September 2009. After her passing, her mom started scheduling the fundraiser around the time of her daughter’s birthday.
Klein was born on Sept. 22, 1982. By the age of seven, she was exhibiting symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): migraines and intestinal problems. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. “No one knows what causes the disease,” Moroney said, “There seems to be a hereditary component.” Eating the wrong food, or stressful events, can trigger the attacks. “It’s a very unpleasant disease,” Moroney said. “People don’t talk about it. It’s unmentionable and creates shame.”
Klein endured this shame along with many doctor visits and a very strict diet.
“We had to avoid certain restaurants,” Moroney recalled. But the worst was “party food” at social gatherings. The preservatives in the dishes would trigger attacks. Klein tolerated Italian cuisine the best and loved to dine at local Italian restaurants.
Klein was a “total extrovert, who connected with everyone at St. Luke School,” Moroney recalled. She went on to Fenwick High School, then earned her degree in business marketing at Northern Illinois University, despite having her colon removed during final exams of freshman year. After graduation, she got a job and moved to New York for a year and a half. But she became homesick and moved back to Chicago. Klein later landed a job in sales and marketing for MTV’s Nickelodeon.
Despite all of her success, the disease took a toll on her. IBD caused malnutrition, because she wasn’t absorbing food. This stunted her growth and kept Klein at a petite 5 feet 2, 125 pounds.
“She’d cocoon when she didn’t feel well,” Moroney said. “I saw the dark side of the disease but the world saw the light.”
That light shone the brightest at Camp Oasis. As one of her colleagues said, “She embodied the spirit of the camp. It was the centerpiece of her life.” Klein came at her own expense to counsel campers for free. “She was the quintessential cheerleader. Her humor and enthusiasm was infectious,” the colleague continued. “She had the opportunity of helping some 80 girls over the span of nine years to deal with Crohn’s and Colitis.” These words were spoken as a sapling was planted at Camp Oasis in Klein’s memory. The tree bore fruit and will be a reminder of Klein for generations to come.
There was another ceremony for Klein at Camp Oasis. Campers tossed rocks into Lake Geneva and watched the ripples spread. These ripples continue to move outward.
“She still inspires people to come to the fundraiser or donate,” Moroney noted. That’s only natural because Klein was always up for a party.
For her 26th birthday, Klein decided to play the “C” card and host a party for herself. She gave her guests two directives: No tears, no sappy cards. Instead, they covered her walls with funny greeting cards. Klein was a good listener who knew how to work the room at parties. She was very popular and had a good sense of humor. Even in her darkest moments, she sent upbeat letters to family and friends.
After she died, she was chosen as maid of honor by a cousin and by her best friend. Her sister, Kelly, wore a Terese T-shirt under her wedding dress.
Moroney recalled Klein rallied near the end and made her final visit to Camp Oasis, accompanied by her sister Allison. Afterward, she was completely bedridden for 3-4 weeks. Camp counselors came to her bedside. “All these 20-somethings flowed through the house,” Moroney recalled. “The camp had pulled her in completely.”
After she died, Moroney searched for a way to honor her and support Camp Oasis. She hit upon holding a fundraiser at Doc Ryan’s. They typically get 250 people and local businesses donate food, drink and raffle prizes.
“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of the community,” Moroney said.
Those who can’t come, can still donate to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, www.ccfa.org, and help children with an “unmentionable” disease just be kids again.