Nothing warms the heart like watching a boatful of heart defected children pull away from the landing, heading for Catalina Island. Tomorrow starts my oldest sons five days away at Camp Del Corazon. This one-of-a-kind camp is offered free to any child, with the only requirement being that they have congenital heart problems of some kind. Most of these kids have undergone open heart surgery and have received scars emotionally and physically, as their parting gift from the hospital. Many of them have pacemakers implanted that bulge up from under their young skin. One child my son befriended, had to bring his oxygen tank with him to camp. Some campers are preparing for more surgery or procedures, some are healing from one. Some, dare I say lucky kids, like my son, had their heart surgery as babies and can’t remember a thing. Every one of these Campers wish they did not have to live life with so many
medical issues, just craving to blend in with the rest of the kid population.
This Camp Del Corazon has provided an ideal get away for my son, Lucas. Having undergone two open heart surgeries, stomach and diaphragm surgeries, his chest resembles that of a page out of the Thomas Map Guide. Since he was seven, he has insisted on wearing a swim shirt to cover his chest. This summer for the first time in five years he declined the swim shirt on two occasions while vacationing at Bass Lake. I was pleasantly surprised. The family we travel with has known Lucas since he was five years old, but that is not why he shed his shirt. I am almost positive that it had something to do with the other dad we vacationed with that went shirtless, exposing his large scars from undergoing a kidney transplant. Lucas must have felt safe, normal enough and accepted. Without that swim shirt Lucas’ chest was white as snow, not having seen the sun in years, a great contrast to his tanned lower arms and legs. He was a miraculous and beautiful sight to see.
I am sure these Camp Del Corazon kids all feel it a curse to being different. The unfortunate thing is that they probably don’t realize yet that EVERYONE is different in some way. However, when children attend Camp Del Corazon, they blend perfectly into this peer group with all their blemishes. No comments or stares. No explanations or swim shirts needed. It is really a wonderful place where a heart kid, can just be a kid. This Camp offers various crafts and every meal has a theme, for example, they dress up in wacky hats or 70’s attire. There are hikes, water sports and a rock climbing wall. They teach video classes, memory booking and digital photography. There is something for every curious appetite. I can understand why Lucas loves this place so much. I appreciate it because the camp is run by doctors and nurses and I can rest easy at night knowing that he is in expert medical hands.
Aside from how filthy Lucas is upon return, there is one drawback to Camp Del Corazon. It is the dates camp is offered. For whatever reason, probably cost or availability, the camp overlaps the first week of school EVERY year. Luckily, Lucas is still young enough to attend the camp session for 7 to 12 year olds, thus missing only the first day of school. Next year he graduates to the older kids camp session and, if we decide to let him go, he will miss the entire first week! Not a great way to kick off the school year. I don’t know how I feel about him missing a week of school. But then,I don’t know how I feel about him being absent at one of his favorite weeks of the year. Refusing to think about it until next year, today I will pull out the fabric marker and label all his clothes and try to locate the Afro wig to pack for 70's night. Cramming his necessities into a duffle bag, I will listen to my son’s excitement as he anticipates meeting up with his camp buddies. The reality of having heart defects all of a sudden feels like the Golden Ticket. “It’s not fair! I want to go!” yells his younger brother. I do my best to explain how fortunate he is to NOT be able to go to Camp Del Corazon. He still wishes to jump on that boat and sail with his big brother to the place where a fluke like a congenital heart defect is the voucher for the best time on Earth.