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Summer Fun at Camp Odayin

For the month of July, we are bringing you stories of how CHD families enjoy the summer, along with tips and tricks on how CHD patients can beat the heat. This week we will hear from Laura Hoagland, an adult CHD patient and avid adventurer. Laura shares her experience with Camp Odayin and explains how we all can have safe, summer fun!

When I first went to Camp Odayin, 11 years ago as a volunteer counselor, I was struggling with my quarter-life crisis. I searched for people who could help me along the journey, to help me see the light within the tunnel of adulthood. When I left camp, I left knowing what adulthood for a CHD survivor looked like. It looked like me. I realized I am the light in the tunnel of adulthood. By living and continuing my journey, one day at a time, my experiences shine bright and illuminate the future, for my campers and other CHD survivors.  This will be my 11th summer with Camp Odayin and my 6th year as Summer Camp Co-Director for their Minnesota location. This isn’t an ordinary summer job, it’s a job full of summer fun! I get to kayak, ride pontoon boats with kids, sing songs, play games, go tubing behind speed boats, throw water balloons and roast marshmallows.

Being a camp director is also a job where I get to say, “YES!” Yes to trying new things, yes to new friends, yes to “going REALLY, REALLY fast!” behind the speed boat on a tube and YES to just being a kid! Every year I always hear at least one camper say, “Cool! My mom would NEVER let me do that!” Don’t worry mom, or dad, at Camp Odayin we have two or three pediatric cardiologists on staff each week as well as ten nurses. Safety is a very important priority at Camp Odayin but you will never see a sign or hear, NO CARDIAC KIDS ALLOWED.

I spent a month of my childhood at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ideally, my Hemi Fontan (now known as the Glenn Shunt) and Fontan surgeries would have been six months to a year apart, but mine were six days apart due to severe complications. When I was finally able to visit the play room after my Fontan, I was stoked! Playing quietly inside was never my thing, give me action, mobility and speed! When I saw the bright red firetruck that you could pedal and ride, I was beyond excited to ride it! I wanted to zoom around that play room! My excitement came to a crushing stop when I saw the sign that read; NO CARDIAC KIDS ALLOWED. I was devastated, angry, and confused. This sign was not the last in my life to limit me because of my cardiac condition. I was stuck painting. Sure, it was better than being in a hospital bed, but I was bitter on the inside. This event may also have been the foundation for my slight obsession with firetrucks…

As Summer Camp Co-Director for Odayin I know what it’s like to live with a complex cardiac condition and I know how crushing it is to hear the words, “No, you can’t do that because of your heart condition.” I know how much we cardiac kids strive to be a normal kid and be just like all of our peers. However, because of loving parents, amazing doctors and opportunities to push limits and say YES, I also know what it’s like to thrive with a complex cardiac condition.

At Camp Odayin activities are purposely planned to be fun, engaging, and safe for all of our campers and their hearts. I have the joy of helping kids with cardiac conditions grow in experience, confidence and thrive in new and exciting situations because at camp we say, “YES!” Yes, play! Yes, have fun! Yes, try this, we’re here to support you!

Something else I get to say yes to at camp? FIRETRUCKS! For the last several years we have been fortunate enough to have the kind hearts from the Crosslake Fire Department come to camp and shower us with fun! Literally, we have a BLAST with the firetrucks.

When it comes to summer fun, say, YES!
Summer fun shouldn’t come with a disclaimer sign that reads NO CARDIAC KIDS ALLOWED. Summer should be a time to be a kid, learn through experience, explore, grow in confidence and HAVE FUN! So this summer, jump into fun!

Laura Hoagland was born with Tricuspid Atresia, Pulmonary Stenosis, VSD and and ASD. Laura has a single ventricle and had the Fontan procedure in 1991 at the age of six. If Laura is not at camp or in her classroom teaching you can find her adventure seeking and traveling. Laura lives by the motto, “half a heart, not half a life!”

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