Children delight in the idea of going to camp. Many look forward to this adventure every summer. It creates memories that often follow children throughout their lives. Can you imagine denying a smiling, expectant face? That is exactly what happened to 6-year old Olivia. Olivia spent much of her young life in and out of the Stollery Children’s Hospital and has undergone numerous neurosurgical procedures. She was denied the opportunity to go to camp because there were concerns about her health. Olivia was heartbroken.
Olivia’s mother, Wendy, was upset that her daughter would be excluded from such a formative event in her young life. No child should be denied the experience of camp. Inspired, Wendy and her friend Tina began throwing around the idea of starting their own camp. They both worked at the Stollery Children’s Hospital for years and knew many kids, just like Olivia, who would love such an opportunity. Wendy and Tina wanted a camp tailored to children affected by neurosurgery; a place where kids could go and just be kids.
Tina and Wendy had their vision, but were unsure of how to move forward and make it a reality. One evening sharing their dream with friends, they found the push they needed. Stirred by their shared vision, Aaron and Carolyn Vaage decided they would financially back the first camp. The Vaage’s wanted a project where they could physically see the difference being made in these children’s lives. In September 2010, the Neurosurgery Kids Fund was formed with a mission to improve the lives of children who have undergone brain or spinal surgery.
The Neurosurgery Kids Fund’s initial act was to organize the first Camp Everest: A name chosen to evoke the obstacles and hardships children affected by neurosurgery have overcome.
Camp Everest is intended to encourage campers to exert their independence while creating a social network of children with common ground. The camp lets them discover that they aren’t alone. There are other kid who have similar issues and they face similar obstacles. This is accomplished through a variety of team-based events over a weekend; from arts and crafts, to rock climbing walls and ziplining. Children who medical histories are engrained in their identity are able to just be kids.
At its heart, Camp Everest is a camp for children; an environment free from their parents’ vigilant gaze and their healthcare professionals incessant poking and prodding. For the weekend, nurses, therapists, physicians, and surgeons hang up their stethoscopes, leave their medical titles at home and become camp counselors. This ensures all the campers (and their parents!) have to worry about is having fun.
The first Camp Everest was a resounding success for the 44 children who attended. Children, families, and volunteers were blown away. Wendy, Tina, and Aaron realized Camp Everest could be used a vehicle to create a long-lasting benefit to those affected by pediatric neurosurgery.
Dr. Vivek Mehta, head of the Pediatric Neurosurgery Department, recognized the Neurosurgery Kids Fund as the perfect prescription to boost morale of the department staff and give them something to rally around. The nurses, therapists and physicians, who make up the majority of the volunteer staff, received a rare chance to bond with their patients outside the hospital. The experience reminded the staff that these patients are kids, just like any others. They want to play, get dirty, and have fun. Giving the nurses, therapists, and physicians a chance to connect with these kids away from the hospital has energized the staff, improved working relationships, and boosted morale.
The Neurosurgery Kids Fund facilitates a new kind of community building based on shared values between patients, parents, and healthcare professionals. There is currently no active community that fills this niche and the Neurosurgery Kids Fund plans to remedy this.