Kids from across Saskatchewan have gathered in Saskatoon this week for the seventh annual CHAMPS Camp.
The Children’s Healthy-Heart Activity Monitoring Program in Saskatchewan (CHAMPS) is a week-long summer camp for children between the ages of four and 17 with any kind of heart problem.
The camp is meant to provide kids with the opportunity to meet others living with a heart condition and learn more about their own heart.
“One of the big things it does is help kids meet one another and know they are not the only child with a heart problem,” said Dr. Charissa Pockett, one of the pediatric cardiologists at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital.
“It builds a social network for the children and they feel less like an anomaly and more a part of a group.”
The camp is held at the University of Saskatchewan, where throughout the week the kids participate in activities like swimming, basketball, an Amazing Race challenge and more. But perhaps the favourite amongst many campers is none other than the rock-climbing wall.
Aside from the activities, it is also an opportunity to learn about heart conditions.
“It’s an environment I can fit in,” said fourth-year camper Melina Brandt.
“It’s not like real life and you have to hide who you are. You are accepted for who you are with your heart condition and it’s great to learn everyone else’s and hear what they have been through and share your stories.”
For Brasen Sim, who is attending his eighth year at camp, it’s the people he remembers more than his time in the pool.
“There’s so many people you get to know and so many bonds that are made and we take it out of the camp as well,” he said. “It’s comforting to know there are others with you along for the ride.”
The last two years have been held online due to COVID-19, but have returned in person this summer. Campers and families also have access to clinical health psychology sessions that focus on topics such as anxiety, depression and PTSD.
“You fit right in,” said fifth-year camper Keyanna Dunbar. “It doesn’t feel like you are standing out or a slower kid. Everybody has been through similar things and understands you.”
Next week, they will also be having a teddy bear drive to help kids leaving the province for medical care.
“It is the most exhausting week but also the best week of the year,” said Dana Lahti, a CHAMPS camp co-ordinator. “It makes me feel so good inside to know these kids get to come here and have this experience.”