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Winter 2008: Heart

Camp with a Heart

In almost every way, the surgery had returned a sense of normalcy to the patient’s life. But the boy, born with a congenital heart defect and now experiencing dramatically improved heart function that enabled him to play baseball and get on rollerblades for the first time, was having trouble with one aspect of his recovery.

“He was very self-conscious about his scar, to the point that he wouldn’t even take his shirt off for me to examine him,” says Kevin Shannon, M.D., UCLA pediatric cardiologist. “When I asked him about it, he said no one other than his best friend had seen his scar.”

In searching for a program in which his patient could be around other children with heart disease in a summer camptype environment, Dr. Shannon came up with little. There was a program in Louisiana, but for the patient’s mother—who still worried about her son’s health status—that was too far. But Lisa Knight, a nurse who worked with Dr. Shannon, had an idea. She looked at the literature for the Louisiana camp and said simply, “We can do that.” The next thing they knew, Knight and Dr. Shannon were summer camp operators.

Camp del Corazon, on Catalina Island, was founded in 1995 as the first medically supervised, free camp specifically for children with heart disease in the western United States. It remains the largest of its kind on the West Coast—growing from 49 campers that first year to approximately 400 this year. The camp has also created a program called PACE (Progressive Adult Congenital Experience) to assist young adults ages 18-25 in the transition to adulthood. Volunteer doctors, nurses and counselors staff all programs.

“There are very limited resources for children who are growing up with heart disease,” says Knight, who serves as Camp del Corazon’s executive director (Dr. Shannon is medical director). “This is one of the few opportunities for them to actually get a summer camp experience.”

For more information, go to www.campdelcorazon.org or call 818-754-0312.





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