From Camper to Medical Director: Albany Med Physician Leads Double H Medical Team
For nearly 30 years, the Double H Ranch, a camp located in the Adirondacks, has been a summer getaway for tens of thousands of children living with life-threatening illnesses. That includes Chris Woll, MD, pediatric emergency physician at Albany Med.
Dr. Woll, who is from Clifton Park, was diagnosed with cancer at age 7. While undergoing treatment, one of his oncologists suggested that he would benefit from time at Double H’s summer camp the next year. Dr. Woll says he had never spent time away from home and was petrified to attend. That all changed once he arrived at camp and in a short time began dreaming of the day when he’d get to work there.
“Max (Double H Ranch CEO Max Yurenda) always tells the story. I told Max at age 7 that I wanted his job,” Dr. Woll says.
While Dr. Woll chose a career in medicine over a business and CEO path, he never lost the dream of working at Double H. This summer, he was named medical director for the Double H Ranch and the camp he attended for much of his childhood. He replaced Dr. Kathleen Braico, the camp’s founding medical director who had served in the role since Dr. Woll’s time there as a kid.
“Double H wouldn’t be here without her,” Dr. Woll says. “We are all indebted to her. She really invested her life’s work to make this camp happen and it shows.”
Dr. Woll fondly recalls his experience at Double H as a child, from visits to Double H’s barn to see the animals to experiencing the rope course for the first time. After he was too old to attend the camp, Dr. Woll went on to become a counselor, a staff member, a medical volunteer and now medical director. These days, he most enjoys seeing the campers’ faces as they arrive on the first day and sitting in on chats at the camp’s cabins to hear kids talk about their experiences there.
He talks about his love for the camp and how it provides a normal experience for kids who have to live within certain limits because of their health.
“Nothing means more to me than to provide that normal experience for campers and to do so, hopefully, for generations to come,” Dr. Woll says.
As a full-time physician at The Massry Family Children’s Emergency Center at Albany Med, Dr. Woll notes the role that Albany Med has played in the camp’s long-term success. In addition to providing medical supplies used at the camp, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and doctors volunteer a countless number of hours, even serving on the camp’s medical advisory board, which Dr. Woll now leads.
“Double H exists to enrich the lives of children and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses,” said Albany Med President and CEO Dennis P. McKenna, MD, ’92, a long-time volunteer, supporter, and medical advisory board member who was named to Double H’s Board of Directors in 2016. “With a love for Double H that goes way back, Dr. Woll is the perfect choice to lead the medical team that works to ensure the safety of campers so that they can just think about the fun they are having.”
The Double H Ranch has welcomed children from across the United States and the world since it was founded in the 1990s. Even with the number of staff and campers reduced the past two summers due to Covid-19, Woll says they have a tremendous medical and operations team that is committed to making Double H a success and ensuring a great experience for campers.
“The atmosphere is what makes Double H what it is,” Dr. Woll says. “It’s really the person-to-person interactions and the love you get from everybody at camp. It’s not just going to the waterfront or the high-ropes course. It’s seeing the people that mean so much to you.”