Sharing the experience of transplant through summer camp

Campers and counselors get ready to leave for the annual Solid Organ Transplant Camp by Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at St. Dorothy’s Rest Camp Meeker, Calif., for first time on Monday, July 20, 2015. ( Norbert von der Groeben /Stanford Children’s Helath )

On Monday, July 20, 50 kids boarded a bus at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Menlo Park. The occasion? To spend an entire week up north, 100 miles away, at St. Dorothy’s Rest in Camp Meeker, Calif. It was all part of the Annual Solid Organ Transplant Camp for kids 8-18 who have received organ transplants at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

“It’s where being a kid comes first and having a transplant comes second,” said coordinator Kirsten Cotton-Sheldon, recreation therapy and child life specialist at the hospital.

For over 20 years, St. Dorothy’s has been donating the week for kids to enjoy, keeping with the camp’s original founding mission of a place for convalescent children to take rest.

As families waited in line to check campers in and say their goodbyes, the scene within the church hall was teeming with excitement and energy. Everyone was experiencing a special sense of community. Parents from all over California shared stories with a similar but unforgettable theme—organ donation saves lives. Meanwhile, kids with transplanted hearts, livers, lungs and kidneys were being led by camp leaders to get to know their fellow campers better. That’s when they cued up the camp classic, “I Love My Neighbor.” Now that’s a good icebreaker.

Such a special week for such a special population requires much planning and preparation. Lots of medication and medical supplies were transported to the camp along with specific knowledge of each camper’s medical condition. Because of complex medical regimens, six hospital nurses go along, but parents and doctors stay behind.

From the anxious first-timer to the calm and cool ten-year veteran, there were a range of campers ready to enjoy their week away from home—and to experience all the wonders of camp, from swimming to hiking to campfires and more.

Sophia Jadzak, 18, attending for her tenth and final year, offered a camp veteran’s point of view of what makes this week so magical. “Our camp isn’t like any other camp,” said Sophia, who will return home with the other campers on Saturday, July 25. “Because we all share the experience of having a transplant, we quickly become one big family. It’s such a powerful experience that by the end of the week, many of us are hugging and crying because we have become so close to each other.”

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