Unfortunately, when I was out of high school I was told by my beloved childhood camp that I was too sick to be a counselor and that they were not willing to give me a chance. It broke my heart thinking that I'd never get to be a counselor. For 17 years I had looked forward to giving back to the community that had given me so much.
Thanks to an amazing organization called Nick and Kelly Children's Heart Fund and a loving nurse that has known me since I was a baby, I finally got the chance to be a camp counselor. Despite the camp being in high elevation, they were willing to make it work for me. They supported and encouraged me in my dream of being a counselor. Those five days were the best five days of my life and I cannot thank them enough for letting me live my dream.
For five days I was surrounded by people of all ages who "get it". My co-counselors were amazingly understanding about me having to take breaks or work in the infirmary instead of being at certain activities that were too strenuous. I had several campers asked me about my oxygen and share their own stories of having to wear the uncomfortable tubes. I normally don't like wearing oxygen in public. But this was the perfect place for me and it was great to see how many campers felt comfortable coming up and talking to me about their experiences just because they saw me wearing it. My campers were beyond wonderful. I was the only counselor in our cabin who had CHD like them, and they loved asking me about my oxygen and scars. They talked to me about their scars and all the medicine they take.
One of my sweet little girls had to get her INR checked every day and I was so impressed with how much of a trooper she was when she had to get poked more than once. As I sat with her in the infirmary, I gave her some tips on how to get as much blood as possible so she didn't have to get poked again. I'll never forget how big she smiled when she asked me if I had to get blood checked too. I told her about how I used to have to get mine checked and her face lit up. She was so excited to meet a fellow INR-checker and I was filled with so much joy to be that person for her.
I got to meet a young man that my mom had told me about who had never been to camp before. His mom and mine have been talking for months now and I had heard all about him. Unfortunately the only two people with CHD he had gotten to meet died, which is why I'm so glad he got to come to camp. It gave him a chance to meet more CHD kids and hopefully restore his hope in being able to live with CHD. When we finally found each other, we instantly bonded over our love and appreciation for our parents but also, how guilty we feel about making our parents and family go through this all. Tears and hugs were shared and we promised to tell our mom's that the other says hi. I told him that before he left to go home, make sure he got everyone's phone numbers because these people you meet at camp, they will become your life long friends who support you through everything.
In those five days I got to meet campers and counselors of all ages who were able to be themselves and forget about their health for a few days. We bonded with songs, dancing, laughter and deep conversations about what it is like living with CHD. For five days out of the year, we were all "normal". When camp ended, I didn't want to go home. I was exhausted and my voice was next to gone, but I didn't want to go. I wanted to stay at camp surrounded by loving, supportive, funny and kind people who truly understand what its like to be sick. Thank you again to Doodles, Dan, Margaret and all of the staff at the Nick and Kelly Heart Camp. I cannot tell you just how much this experience means to me. And to all the parents out there of children with illnesses or disabilities - please send your child to camp. As a former camper, I guarantee it will change their life and yours for the better. Those of us who are chronically ill or disabled, we need to have friends our age who "get it" and camp is the perfect place to meet those people. Send them to camp, you won't regret it.
Hope and Love,