Story and photo by Katie Blackley
Ranging in age from 8 to 14, all these campers have at least one thing in common: They’re growing up with congenital heart disease.
Founded 24 years ago by Dr. Bill Neches, Heart Camp for Kids is a summer camp specifically for children and teenagers living with heart disease. Along with Camp Director Keith McIntire, Neches has made it his mission to give these young patients a fun week at camp while also providing a place to meet peers and mentors going through similar experiences.
“About 1 percent of children born in the United States have congenital heart disease, and very few of them know anyone else like themselves, despite the prevalence of congenital heart disease,” Neches said. “The end result is many children with heart disease feel like they’re the only ones in the whole world that have this. When they come to heart camp they realize that all of the sudden there is a whole group of individuals just like themselves, and they’re also exposed to young adults and adults, also with heart disease.”
Neches said parents regularly thank him for helping their children gain self-confidence after attending Heart Camp and has enjoyed seeing an entire generation grow up at the camp.