Catalina Island camp caters to children with cardiac conditions

Wednesday, September 6, 2017
CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. (KABC) -- For some students returning to school, the lessons they learned at summer camp will stay with them forever.

Kids with serious heart conditions rarely get to leave home, but at Camp del Corazon they discover just how much they can do on their own.

It's a camp that's all about heart.

At Berth 95 in San Pedro, parents hugged their children goodbye, but it was hard to let go.

Angela Eiler of Yorba Linda said, "I just worry a little bit more about her condition than I would. I know I shouldn't, but it's always in the back of my head."

Eiler's 8-year-old daughter Myka was born with a heart valve that won't open or close.

Leia William of West Sacramento has a 13-year-old son who has had three open heart surgeries. "He was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart syndrome," she said.

More than a hundred others are also in the same boat heading to Catalina Island for a one-of-kind, four-day adventure called Camp del Corazon.

Catalina Island is 22 miles off the coast of San Pedro, but for many of these kids, who've never been away from home, it might as well be a world away.

"Because I've never been away a long time," said 8-year-old Myka Eiler. She and her cabin mates learn camp rules together.

Lisa Knight is a nurse who co-founded the camp in 1995. "We provide them a safe environment where they get a chance to test these limits and to do things that they probably have never done before," she said.

Many kids said they've felt isolated because of their limitations.

At Camp del Corazon, they meet others on the same journey including counselor Krysta Falloun who had a heart transplant.

She said, "I really relate to the the kids because I've been through the same doctor appointments and procedures that they've gone through."

Medical volunteers will administer 3,000 doses of medicine before the camp is done.

Co-founder Dr. Kevin Shannon says the infirmary is equipped for every emergency.

"Just about everything you would have in a paramedic van or an emergency room resuscitation suite we have here," he said.

Shannon is a cardiologist and camp co-founder. He said he sees positive changes medicine alone can't provide.

"I come and do more for children with heart disease in these 13 days than I'll do the rest of the year, " he said.

The 200-plus staff are all volunteers and the camp is free. Generous donations make the annual program possible.

Myka said she still misses her mom, but she can't wait for next summer.

"I want to come back next, " she said.
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