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Dr. Bill Neches Heart Camp for Kids Celebrates 20 Years as the Country’s First Camp for Kids with Heart Conditions

PITTSBURGH, June 10, 2010 – More than 150 kids from around the country will travel to western Pennsylvania next week for a unique summer camp where they can enjoy traditional camp activities such as swimming and fishing while sharing with each other the challenges of living with heart conditions.

The Dr. Bill Neches Heart Camp for Kids, co-sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and the American Heart Association, will be held from June 15 to 19, at Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell, Pa.

The camp, now in its 20th year, was the first in the nation dedicated solely to children with heart disease. It is named in honor of Children’s cardiologist William Neches, M.D., who retired in 2005 after 33 years at Children’s Hospital.

Heart disease affects approximately 1 percent of all children born in the United States, yet very few who have heart disease are aware of others with the same problems. As a result, many children with heart conditions feel isolated.

Each year, more than 150 children ages 8 to 16 with heart conditions attend Heart Camp, along with physicians and nurses. Campers are encouraged to make new friends and share their experiences. “Camp provides them with an opportunity to participate in sports and other camp activities to the best of their abilities without fear of being judged by others,” said camp co-director Linda Russo, M.D., a cardiologist in Children’s Heart Center. “We’ve remained true to Dr. Neches’ vision that Heart Camp help children and adolescents with heart disease feel less isolated by introducing them to other children like themselves. We’re thrilled he’ll be back again this year to help us celebrate 20 years of Heart Camp."

Dr. Neches will meet with campers and camp staff on Thurs., June 17. That evening, there will be music by Nied’s Hotel Band followed by a display by Zambelli Fireworks Internationale.

Heart Camp is test- and pain-free. As such, it provides an opportunity for the children to interact with their doctors and nurses in a non-medical setting. In this environment, campers learn to view the medical staff as friends, while the medical staff learns more about each child’s personality and limitations.

In addition to the typical outdoor camping activities, Heart Camp offers several unique opportunities. Two of the favorites among the campers that offer an educational element are “Ask the Doctor/Nurse” and “Ask the Counselor.”

During the “Ask the Doctor/Nurse” session, campers are encouraged to ask the doctors and nurses questions about their heart conditions. The medical staff answers each child’s question in simple language that children can understand, often using diagrams and other visual aids. This group discussion helps children recognize they are not “defective” and that their illnesses were not caused by anything bad they may have done. Campers also ask the doctors and nurses about their future and advances being made in pediatric cardiology. On the lighter side, children ask the staff personal questions to try to learn more about the people who take care of them.

The “Ask the Counselor” session is held with the entire group. During this session, each of the counselors shares stories about their heart conditions, what kind of procedures they have had, how they have learned to cope with their conditions and what they do outside of Heart Camp. Campers are then encouraged to ask the counselors questions regarding:

  • How they deal with daily life activities
  • How they have adjusted to being heart patients
  • What to tell people about their scars
  • How to deal with physical limitations
  • What to tell people about their heart problems
  • Dating and other issues adolescents encounter

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