Want to meet some of the most incredible and inspiring people around? Seek out a child who is living with a heart condition. I know there are few people I have met with that much resilience and strength…
Last year I was a guest at PACE Camp, a camp for kids who have cardiac devices. This past Fall I was invited to be a bunk counselor at Camp Meridian, a camp for children with congenital heart defects. In between all of that, I have met so many outstanding young individuals who refuse to let heart disease define them. Let me tell you, there is nothing like spending time with these survivors. Their courage, outlook, and sense of purpose are unmatched.
When I walked across the Miss America stage last year, I was featured all over the media as the “heart survivor contestant who was going to show her big scar in the swimsuit competition.” I guess we all have to be remembered for something. At camp, however, there was nothing quite like comparing scars with an eight-year-old who has had open heart surgery, the same kid who thinks your scar is “totally awesome”. Nothing beats having a 5-year-old who has a pacemaker look up at you and say, “That’s so cool! Miss Massachusetts has a heart problem too!” The best part, however, might be sitting in the middle of a group of pre-teen girls trying on my crown who are psyched to know that there’s a chance they could be Miss America one day, heart condition and all.
Most of these kids have looked death squarely in the face. They survived the odds. I’ve watched children who once couldn’t move from a bed climb an outdoor adventure wall. I have seen young kids with wisdom and maturity beyond their years encourage their peers to be proud of whom they are, to know they will never be made fun of here at camp, and to never give up. No adult, survivor or not, can offer that sort of love and support. That’s good stuff.
I hope I have contributed to their viewing their syndromes with a new sense of hope…but above all, they have given me the drive to continue my work for them and so many like them in our world. Programs like Camp Meridian give them the extra push to embrace their differences, challenge themselves, and feel at home with those facing similar challenges…not to mention having adult bunk counselors who are all survivors themselves.
Maybe we should all be diagnosed with a heart condition at a young age? (or at least work with some children who have experienced these ailments)… Trust me, I don’t wish my condition or other diseases on anyone, but would we then appreciate our hearts, taking care of them in the best way possible? Would we gain a new perspective on the value of our lives, our bodies, and the engine that keeps us running despite the way we might abuse it? There are lessons to learn from everyone we meet in life, and these kids are certainly no exception.
At 17-years-old Michaela was diagnosed with LongQT Syndrome, one of the conditions responsible for causing Sudden Cardiac Arrest and claiming the lives of many young people unexpectedly. Michaela turned her obstacles into opportunities when she became Miss Massachusetts 2006 and began to speak nationally regarding SCA and heart disease. To learn more about Michaela please visit: www.michaelagagne.com.
For more information on Camp Meridian, please visit www.campmeridian.org.
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