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July 31, 2007 > Special summer camp helps young heart patients

Special summer camp helps young heart patients

Submitted By Johnny Ng

Imagine a summer camp where youth fearlessly scamper up a 50-foot rock wall and later tackle a ropes challenge course where they will climb up a 25-foot pole, carefully maneuver across two ropes and then slide 100 yards down a "zip" line. The next day, these youth go off on a horseback riding outing and then cool off splashing in a swimming pool.

Sounds like a regular summer camp but all of these activities are part of Camp Taylor, a free youth camp for children with heart disease. Founded in 2003 by Dr. Kavin Desai, a Kaiser Permanente pediatric cardiologist from southern Alameda County and Kimberlie Gamino, the mother of a heart patient, this special summer camp was created to provide a positive environment where children with heart disease can share their health and healing experiences and feel that they are not alone.

"It's such an incredible experience to see these children grow emotionally and mentally while making friends with others like themselves," said Dr.Desai.

Heart defects are the number one birth defect among children in the U.S. Often, children with heart disease have endured several open heart surgeries and extended hospital stays. They are limited physically, take numerous medications and have shorter life expectancies.

"It's not about what you can't do, it's about what you can do," said Kimberlie, whose son Taylor was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 3 and is the namesake of the camp. She serves as the executive director of Camp Taylor while Dr. Desai is the medical director.

This year, 75 children ages 7 to 12 including their siblings attended Camp Taylor in a remote area nestled in the rolling foothills of Livermore. In addition to learning more about taking better care of their hearts, campers also picked up photography skills, mastered their dance steps, and got to film their own music videos.

"This is the greatest thing for them," said Randall Martin, a volunteer from Fremont whose son Jeremy is attending the camp. "They get to spend time with others just like them, and know that they are all in the same situation."

Randall's nine-year-old son, Jeremy, has four holes in his heart. A patient of Dr. Desai, Jeremy is attending his second summer camp. "I'm learning a lot, especially how my heart works," he said.

Cheryl Kavert's 10-year-old son Austin is another patient of Dr. Desai who enjoys Camp Taylor and looks forward to coming every summer. Austin had surgery to replace a defective heart valve three years ago and has not missed a summer camp since.

"I learned so much about kids with heart disease," said Austin. "It's nice to know that I'm not the only one with a heart problem."

Both Cheryl and Randall took time off from work to volunteer as counselors at Camp Taylor. Cheryl is the activities director and Randall is a camp counselor. They emphasized that this experience has helped them to understand their son better and become even closer to them.

"I got insight of what my son feels and the things that he is living through," said Randall.

Camp Taylor is fully staffed by volunteers including experienced pediatric cardiologists and pediatric cardiac nurses from Kaiser Permanente and from other local hospitals, as well as a full roster of trained counselors and program leaders. Medical assistance is immediately available 24 hours a day and a nurse is assigned to each cabin.

"They are all giving their time (to volunteer at Camp Taylor) and that's so valuable," said Spencer Larson, MD, a retired pediatrician and assistant chief at Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center. A former colleague of Dr. Desai, he has volunteered for the past three years.

At the end of the camp, the campers are the ones who reap the most benefit.

"Kids walk away knowing that they have a support group and people who love them and that they are not alone," said Kimberlie. "They go back to school empowered with a stronger self-worth."

In addition to the youth camp, Camp Taylor has camps for teens (ages 13-18) and families. For more information about Camp Taylor, please visit www.kidsheartcamp.org or call Kimberlie Gamino at (209) 545-4715.



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