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Camp Rhythm provides an escape for children with heart ailments

11:50 AM, Aug 5, 2013   |    comments
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EUREKA, Mo. -- Out here, there is only one thing more soothing than the sounds of nature and that's the sound of children having fun.

Welcome to Camp Rhythm, which not only has crafts and camaraderie, but cardiologists as well.

"All these kids have had an open heart surgery so everybody has an open chest incision," explains camp co-founder Charlotte Smock.

"They cut my chest open, they cut my heart open and then they sewed it back together!" exclaims 8-year-old Ella Jane Feldman.

Ella was born with a hole in her heart and her camp friends have all had to deal with other serious issues that a child shouldn't even be able to pronounce.

"I have hypoplastic left heart syndrome," says 9-year-old Felicia Jordan.

"Myocarditis and Cardiomyopathy," says 11-year-old Quinton Bogner.

Around other kids they might hide their scars, but not at Camp Rhythm.

"The scars are sort of a badge of honor. In fact, they like to compare scars and how many scars they have,"points out Cardiologist Dr. Mark Grady.

The camp was started when some of the nurses at the hospital heard a story from one of their patients.

"We had a child that went to camp with a backpack full of medicine," remembers Smock, a nurse. "When he got there he was told there was no nurse so he couldn't stay."

Thirty two campers signed up that first year. Nine years later, more than 150 kids were on hand when the "Bubble Bus" arrived to play music and turn on the bubble machine.

Spending even one night at grandma's house can be considered risky for a child with a heart problem. Here though, parents can feel safe even as their children spend five nights away from home.

Camp Rhythm is staffed entirely by volunteers, including doctors and nurses from St. Louis Children's Hospital, who take vacation time to be here.

"Basically we sort of have a Children's Hospital annex out here with all the nursing staff and physicians to help supervise their care," says Dr. Grady. "I mean they really are watched."

Tim and Janet Berry started bringing their son to Camp Rhythm when he was just 5-years-old.

"I think it's because it gives these kids a chance to be kids," said Mr. Berry.

This place meant so much to them, that they're still coming back to help out three years after their son Gus passed away at the age of 9.

"A lot of people at Children's hospital talk about Gus that he was camp Rhythm," said Mrs. Berry. "We love the staff and the volunteers. They are like a second family to us."

"It fills my heart that they feel that way," says Smock.

It may only last five days but what stays with these kids lasts a lot longer.

"It's really important to know that you're not alone," added Bogner.

Camp Rhythm. Letting kids with heart problems just be kids and never missing a beat.

Ella Jane added-"It's been awesome!"



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