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Camp Hope helps young burn patients on road to recovery

Aug. 2, 2012, 2:11 PM

Camp Hope participant and former Vanderbilt burn patient Kasie Atkins tests out a fire hose with Chattanooga fireman Vernon Horn and Vanderbilt burn nurse Amy Smith, R.N. (photo by Meg Logan)

Spirits and self-confidence soared as 30 former patients of the Vanderbilt Burn Center gathered July 25-28 for Camp Hope, a free annual event for burn survivors ages 6 to 16.

This year marked the 23rd year Camp Hope has offered pediatric burn survivors a chance to take part in a week of summer activities while recovering from the devastating physical and psychological injuries associated with burns.

Nurses, physicians, occupational and physical therapists and respiratory therapists from Vanderbilt, along with adult burn survivors, local firemen and emergency medical services personnel, volunteer to create activities to promote physical and emotional healing for the children at the camp, held at the William P. Ridley 4-H Center in Columbia, Tenn.

Camp director Rebekah Lemley, R.N., burn charge nurse, says the camp provides a safe place for dialogue among peers with similar experiences.

Camp participants often share stories about their burns, with causes ranging from kitchen accidents to family bonfires gone awry.

“This camp brings so much joy to these children,” Lemley said. “In their everyday lives, the kids often try to blend into the background, but at Camp Hope, that’s not the case.”

Jarrett Roden, a 12-year-old burn survivor from Lawrenceburg, Tenn., is a four-time camp participant following burns he received on his face and arm from an accident involving a spray paint can and a bonfire.

“When I got burned, no one could understand the pain I felt, but when I come to burn camp, everyone understands the pain,” Roden said. “I don’t really tell other friends much about the time I got burned because I’m afraid they’ll shut me out, but I know these friends [at camp] will understand.”

In addition to traditional camp activities, including swimming, crafts, archery and wildlife education, campers were visited by country music recording artist and former American Idol contestant Bucky Convington.

Country music artist Bucky Covington visited with Camp Hope participants as part of his work with Help the Good Guys, an organization that raises awareness and financial aid for firefighters experiencing financial issues. (photo by Rick Boatwright)

Covington serves as spokesperson for “Help the Good Guys,” an organization that raises awareness and financial aid for firefighters experiencing financial crises due to work-related injuries.

“Burn camps are very important because kids are able to take all their differences and put them aside and become the same,” Covington said. “The kids are able to feel normal again, and their self-esteem is so important.”

It is self-esteem that Lemley says is one of the greatest challenges of a burn survivor.

“The kids just want to be what society deems as normal, and if you have scars on your body, you are seen as different and are often a target for bullying or even become the aggressor,” Lemley said. “Watching these kids progress from the time they get here to the time they leave is unbelievable. They really blossom.”

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