The first time Camp Braveheart kids see the swimming pool, they may hesitate for a beat. As refreshing as the water looks, it’s a moment of unique vulnerability for a child to reveal the scars of heart surgery. However, when they see all their new friends jumping in, it doesn’t take long for them to realize:
I’m just like everyone else here.” And it’s not so scary anymore.
“Our campers say that camp is the absolute highlight of their summer,” said Kati Keyes, co-director of Camp Braveheart. “Parents say they love that their kids can just be kids here. It helps them feel less isolated to be around children who are dealing with similar circumstances. That’s what makes camp so special.”
Camp Braveheart is held each year in Rutledge, Ga., at Camp Twin Lakes, a network of camps that provides life-changing, therapeutic, recreational and medically-supportive camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges. The Camp Twin Lakes mission is to teach campers to overcome obstacles while creating shared experiences with other children who face similar challenges.
Founded in 1995 by Roger and Kathy Flynn, Camp Braveheart continues today in memory of their daughter Ansley. Camp Braveheart provides a summer camp experience for kids 7 to 17 with cardiac conditions who might not otherwise be able to attend a summer camp. More than 100 volunteers, including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta employees, former campers, members of the community and nursing and pharmacy school college students, ensure that campers have the time of their lives each summer.
“Our volunteers work alongside the Camp Twin Lakes summer staff,” said Shannon Antinarella, director of Camp Braveheart. “They are trained in how to run the specialized equipment and adapt activities, and they have a great understanding of exactly what our kids need. Some of our volunteers are adults with heart conditions who want to be mentors and give back to kids experiencing what they experienced as children.”
Camp Braveheart features all the activities commonly associated with summer camp including canoes, swimming, archery, arts and crafts, horseback riding, a climbing wall and ropes course and even a talent show. Camp staff are experts at adapting activities to ensure that any child can engage at whatever level is possible for them.
Camp Braveheart also brings a team of nurses, an attending physician and rotating fellows from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Sibley Heart Center who are available 24 hours a day. A nurse is assigned to every cabin to dispense medications, and the team of nurses in the medical lodge has experience in the cardiac ICU or cardiac step-down unit.
“It’s a huge relief to parents that the same nurses who take care of their children in the hospital are taking care of them at camp,” Keyes said.
To alleviate concerns about sending children to a sleepaway camp, especially from the families of first-time campers, Camp Braveheart provides an open house so they can experience camp as a family. Everyone sees where the camper will be sleeping and eating, and they can tour the medical lodge. They also connect with other families who have been in their shoes so they can receive support.
Sometimes there are tears at drop off – maybe even from mom and dad – but the tears after a week at camp are usually because the kids aren’t ready to leave,” Antinarella said. “They ask when we’re going to extend camp to two weeks. Some would come for whole summer if they could!”
Camp Braveheart is free to families, thanks to support of donors throughout the year. To learn more about Camp Braveheart, visit their website.
Deadlines for 2019 applications have passed, stay tuned next February for 2020 applications.
For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.