Medically fragile kids with transplants have their own camp

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On Sunday, July 20, a packed bus with 59 kids, ages 8-18, left for a weeklong summer blast at St. Dorothy’s Rest camp in Camp Meeker, Calif. While the activities planned for their camp seemed quite normal, the theme certainly wasn’t.

They were headed to the 20th annual Solid Organ Transplant Camp by Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. The campers? Each was a past recipient of a lifesaving donor heart, liver, kidney, small bowel or set of lungs. But none of that would hold them back. At this camp, they would be kids first, transplant recipients second.

Sure, they had to take lots of medical supplies, such as feeding tubes, catheters and medications. Still, this would be a true camp experience. That meant swimming, crafts, scavenger hunts, sports, campfires and even a talent show. It would all happen among the redwoods at St. Dorothy’s Rest, the oldest camp in California.

“It’s really an incredibly important and nurturing event,” said Cynthia Wong, MD, pediatric nephrologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. “It provides an opportunity these kids might not have otherwise.” Because of complex medical regimens, six hospital nurses took the trip, but parents and doctors stayed behind. “Parents know that their kids will be in a safe, supportive environment,” Wong added. “They also really appreciate the value of their kids being with others who’ve gone through similar experiences.”

Kirsten Cotten-Sheldon, recreation therapy and child life specialist, coordinates the trip. She said the kids love the camp and keep coming back every year. “No matter the age, they really like getting to know others with whom they share common ground,” Cotten-Sheldon said. “And we know that they’re creating relationships that will last a lifetime.”

St. Dorothy’s Rest is the perfect place to make it happen. “Providing a summer camp for children with chronic illness is a direct link to our mission,” said Katie Evenbeck, executive director at St. Dorothy’s Rest, “and we believe these campers can experience a type of healing that is only found in nature.”

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