Children’s Heart Camp Celebrates 25 Years

June 12, 2015

The Dr. Bill Neches Heart Camp for Kids, sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, is celebrating 25 years of summer camp especially for children and adolescents with heart disease.

More than 120 children ages 8 to 15 will travel to Western Pennsylvania next week to enjoy traditional camp activities such as swimming and hiking while sharing with each other the challenges of living with heart conditions. The camp will be held June 16 to June 20 at Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell, Pa.

The camp, established in 1991 by Children’s Hospital, is the first in the nation dedicated solely to children with heart disease. It is named in honor of cardiologist William Neches, MD, who retired in 2005 after 33 years at Children’s Hospital.

Each year, children with heart conditions attend Heart Camp, along with physicians and nurses. Campers make new friends, interact and share their experiences. Heart disease affects approximately 1 percent of all children born in the United States, yet very few who have heart disease ever get to know others with the same problems. The camp helps children and adolescents with heart disease feel less isolated by introducing them to other children like themselves.

“Heart Camp has made a difference in the lives of all of us who have participated as counselors, staff, doctors, nurses and other support personnel,” said Dr. Neches. “We have seen the difference this experience has made in the lives of our fellow Heart Campers and this has given us the resolve to continue this activity for the last 25 years.”

Luke Ziegler, a patient with the Heart Institute at Children’s who has attended as a camper and is now a senior counselor, said it has changed his outlook on his condition.

“The real beauty of Heart Camp is that one is never too young nor too old to learn from each other, or to lean on each other for support in the trials that inevitably come our way,” said Mr. Ziegler, now 21. “It is a network of friends closer than I have ever seen or experienced anywhere else in life. Heart Camp offers us a fantastic experience to be able to be a kid again and feel the sheer joy of a week of canoeing, swimming, campfire songs, and all of the other activities.”

Heart Camp provides the chance 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.

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, as well as typical outdoor fun such as fishing, crafts and swimming.

In addition to many generous donors, Heart Camp also receives support from organizations including the American Heart Association. The camp is a program of the Heart Institute at Children’s, 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

Andrea Kunicky, 412-692-6254,
Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-7919,