Summer Fun at UPMC’s Heart Camp for Kids
By Tamer Abouras
The Dr. Bill Neches Heart Camp for Kids, sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, offers children and adolescents with heart disease a summer camp experience. The camp gives children and adolescents with heart disease the chance to enjoy summer camp and a variety of activities during the week.
Back for its 26th year, more than 120 children 8 to 15 years old will travel to western Pennsylvania to enjoy camp activities such as swimming and hiking while sharing with each other the challenges of living with heart conditions. The camp was held June 14–18 at Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell, Pennsylvania.
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The camp, established in 1991 by Children’s Hospital, is the first in the nation dedicated solely to children with heart disease. It’s named in honor of its founder and cardiologist William Neches, MD, who retired in 2005 after 33 years at Children’s Hospital.
“There is a special feeling among all of us who have participated in Heart Camp — campers, staff and caregivers alike,” said Neches. “Heart Camp has changed all of our lives for the better, and we look forward to many more years of these experiences.”
Heart disease affects approximately 1% of all children born in the United States, yet very few who have heart disease ever get to know others with the same problems. Each year, young people with heart conditions attend Heart Camp, make new friends and share their experiences.
Alissa Carter, a patient with the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital who has attended as a camper and is now a senior counselor, said Heart Camp is a place of belonging.
“Heart Camp has always been about finding a place you belong, where you can be 100% yourself,” said Carter, 24. “I learned that I didn’t need be ashamed of my scars. I come back every year in the hope that I can change a camper’s life in the way my counselors and the staff here have changed mine over the years.”
Heart Camp provides an opportunity for children to spend time with their doctors and nurses in a non-medical setting. In this environment, campers learn to view the medical staff as friends, and the medical staff learns more about each child’s personality and limitations.
Heart Camp serves as a support system for Kelsey Hallinen, a senior counselor this summer.
“Without Heart Camp, I never would have met my best friends,” said Hallinen, 24. “Camp has provided a rock-solid support system that I know will help with whatever comes my way. As a counselor, I am continually inspired by my campers’ accomplishments and positivity. I can't wait to see what this year will bring and know, no matter what, it will be great.”
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Favorite activities include the Ask the Doctor/Nurse and Ask the Counselor sessions, which give campers the opportunity to find out more about the people caring for them and typical outdoor fun such as fishing and crafts.
In addition to many generous donors, Heart Camp receives support from organizations including the American Heart Association. The camp is a program of the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital, which cares for infants, children and young adults with all types of heart disease and for adults with congenital heart disease, including many who have undergone heart transplants.
For more information on Heart Camp, visit chp.edu/heartcamp.
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