I would like to highlight an amazing opportunity for children living with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD). Camp Braveheart is a week-long, overnight camp for kids living with CHD.

The camp was founded by Roger and Kathy Flynn in 1995 for their daughter Ansley. Sadly, Ansley lost her battle with CHD but the Flynn family continues to be involved and support the camp in her memory.

Organized by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Camp Braveheart is held at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, GA. Camp Twin Lakes is a network of camps providing transformative camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, disabilities, and other life challenges. Thanks to generous donor support, campers are able to attend Camp Braveheart at no cost to their families. Children with congenital or acquired heart defects and heart transplant recipients living in the state of Georgia who are treated at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta or Sibley Heart Center Cardiology are eligible to attend.

Campers 7 to 17 years old are served by Camp Braveheart volunteers like me, staff from Camp Twin Lakes, and medical staff including: nursing students, registered nurses, and pediatric cardiologists. Cabin nurses dispense medication to the campers. You will not have to worry about your child’s health. Any medical or physical need can usually be accommodated.

Campers make lasting friendships with peers who understand living with a chronic illness. Activities include boating and fishing, swimming, horseback riding, arts and crafts, cooking, rock wall climbing and zip-lining, most accessible to campers of all abilities.

“No” and “I can’t” are rarely used at Camp Braveheart. If there’s a will, there’s a way. Fellow campers, counselors, and volunteers encourage campers to take chances and try something new. One new camper found the courage to zipline for the first time. Another camper celebrated the first time he’d ever caught a fish.

Camp Braveheart is more than a camp, it’s a community. Campers rally around each other and visit those sick or hospitalized. One older teen boy camper helped a younger boy camper who was struggling. One cabin had a mock high school graduation for their counselor, cap and gown included, because the counselor volunteered rather than attend his own graduation.

I could have been among the first campers, had my parents or doctors known of the program. It might have helped me come out of my shell and feel more understood. When you are the only person in your small community with CHD, others have no clue why you’re tired, absent a lot, can’t keep up in gym class, or have that scar. A camp designed with you in mind, around others who have gone through the same things, is refreshing.

I encourage all readers to share this information so that those with CHD can have the same refreshing experience. For more information on Camp Braveheart and how to get on the mailing list please visit www.choa.org/campbraveheart or email campbraveheart@choa.org.

I hope to see some South Georgia faces next session.

Lacey Johnson

Volunteer, Camp Braveheart

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