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More than 150 children from across the region will travel to western Pennsylvania this week for a unique summer camp where they can enjoy traditional camp activities such as swimming and hiking while sharing with each other the challenges of living with heart conditions.
The Dr. Bill Neches Heart Camp for Kids, sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, will be held June 14 to 18, 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 Children’s 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 are encouraged to interact, make new friends 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 are aware of 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 provides children with the opportunity to participate in fun activities, interact with their doctors and to be introduced to other children who share similar medical issues,” said camp co-director Linda Russo, M.D., a cardiologist in Children’s Heart Center. “We have the ability to make these children feel positive about their futures without the fear of being judged by others.”
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, while the medical staff learns more about each child’s personality and limitations.
“It is extremely rewarding for the staff and volunteers to interact with the children outside of the hospital,” said camp co-director Susan Miller, M.D. “We enjoy getting to know them all better on a non-medical basis and learning new things about each one of them.”
In addition to the typical outdoor camping activities such as fishing, hiking and swimming, Heart Camp offers several other unique opportunities. Two of the campers’ favorite activities are the Ask the Doctor/Nurse and Ask the Counselor sessions. These programs give campers the opportunity to find out more about the people who are caring for them.
Heart Camp is supported through the generosity of organizations such as the American Heart Association, as well as many other private and corporate donors. The camp is a program of the Heart Center at Children’s. The Heart Center 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 about Children’s Heart Center or Heart Camp, please visit www.chp.edu/heartcenter.
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