The Children’s Harbor Lake Martin campus was bustling with excitement one Saturday morning in June, with campers and their families. The campers were buzzing around with energy from the Activity Pavilion to the boating dock to their own cabin they shared with other campers and a counselor. It was the kind of independence that all children crave at summer camp, but it was even more special for these kids.
Most of the time, one could not look at a family and tell which child had the heart condition at this camp. The amount of courage and the cheerful attitude the patients exuded was amazing. These campers are dealing with very serious medical conditions that have completely turned their lives upside down. For example, many have the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which administers a therapeutic dose of electrical energy or “shock” when needed to restore normal heart function.
As the children were having the time of their lives playing outdoors, their parents were having a much needed counseling session in the conference center on campus. Jared Hood, one of Children’s Harbor licensed professional counselors, led the session. Jared structured the session to tailor each parent’s needs and concerns. It was an open conversation where parents shared stories and advice with one another while Jared commentated. The themes in their stories were very similar with repeated phrases like “separation anxiety”, “knocked me down”, and “letting go”. With every concern stated, Jared gave a straightforward answer with applicable steps to use in the situation described. He reassured the parents that, with children who have a heart condition, it takes a while to get back to normal mode, but all of the parents’ efforts to protect and support their children were assisting recovery.
You could see an unspoken sigh of relief in the parents’ faces as anxiety and worries were alleviated.
Without this counseling session, many parents would not have had an outlet to discuss issues with other parents that have children with the same condition. This is possible because Children’s Harbor provides free of charge to theses families. Dr. Lau, a pediatric cardiologist at UAB, agreed. “Parents are so appreciative. We are very thankful for Children’s Harbor.”
The variety of activities at camp was almost overwhelming for the children as they tried to decide what to do first. The campers were just in awe of the choices Children’s Harbor provides for fun. “I wasn’t expecting the campus to look like this. It is really nice and so much fun,” exclaimed Kristen Harris, a patient from Birmingham. You could see all of the children felt this same sentiment just by their happy expressions. It is such a unique atmosphere for them to meet new and old friends with similar conditions. “ I like meetings new people and having something that I can do for once, “ said Nesha Cross, a patient from Talladega. This is the magic to the facilities. Regardless of restrictions due to a child’s condition, there are always options since the campus is so multifaceted in recreational activities, including ping pong, volleyball, air hockey, arts and crafts, basketball, pool games, intertubing, swimming and much more. In addition, with such a spacious buildings like the conference center, it is easy for the organizations to transform it into a beautiful setting for a party or dance.
But of course, the most anticipated fun was in the lake. Children’s Harbor provided the water trampoline that is so infamous in the summer camp setting. All the children had the best time splashing and giggling while racing to the trampoline. As they climbed on, they would catapult each other one by one into the lake with a big splash. The children even convinced camp director Barbara Mostella, RN, of UAB’s Department of Pediatric Cardiology, to join in the fun by chanting her name and clapping in excitement.
Thanks to the patrons of Children’s Harbor, we are able to provide a safe fun filled environment for these patients.