Ohlone student mentors heart patients
May 10, 2017
Camp Taylor is a free summer camp for children born with congenital heart disease. This includes a wide variety of complications. Some examples include Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, Tetralogy of Flow, and Transposition of the Great Arteries.
The camp is held not only in California, but also in Hawaii. This is mostly done to bring the camp closer to the Hawaiian children, rather than having them fly to the camp in California each year. Since it is difficult for many of the children to fly on a plane.
Considering they have to bring oxygen tanks and take several precautions in order to fly on a plane. Most of the them already have to fly over to California for doctor’s appointments, as well as a number of surgeries. Flying to California each year for the camp will only add to their stress and increase the risks they face.
A recurring element of family camp are the mentors, a group of teenagers and young adults, brought in to give parents hope and interact with the younger heart kids. They encourage kids to participate in a wide variety of camp activities, making sure the children have an amazing experience at camp.
I was born with a condition called Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome. This is a condition in which the right ventricle of the heart is not fully developed, causing the child to be born with what is often referred to as half a heart. I was a camper for about ten years before I became a mentor. The crazy thing about me becoming a mentor was that I went around full circle. I started as a camper going to the family camp and eventually moving on to the youth camp. After I hit 13, I started to go through a transition when I went to teen camp instead of youth camp.
I was 17 going on 18 during my last year at teen camp, when the Founder of the camp, Kim Gamino, approached my father who has been a camp counselor for many years, and asked him if he thought whether or not I was ready to be a mentor. She wanted me to continue being involved in the camp, rather than just leaving after the teen camp ended.
I’m not certain as to what his answer was but what I do know is not long after that, I was asked to be a mentor. They took me in to be a mentor at a couple test camps in Santa Cruz first, which were the two California camps of 2014.
Before I knew it, the camps were over and it was already time for the next round of family camps. They asked me back for another year and this time they wanted to include me in the Hawaii camp. This lead toward another two years of mentoring.
I just got back from my first camp of my third year being a mentor. It was the Hawaii camp for 2017. The family that was assigned to me was a family of three, two parents and their heart childe.
The child’s name was Sky, Sky Wheeler. He was a 6-year-old child who was happy as could be. He enjoyed reality TV, mobile video games, and Pokémon. Me and him clicked almost instantly. We immediately started to talk about our adventures on Pokémon GO and our experiences playing the car game.
We even had a short conversation about the latest season of MasterChef Junior because we both watch the show. He started to watch it with his mom earlier in the year. Soon after, during the beginning of the first whole day of camp, he gave me a small gift.
It was a Pokémon card, a level X Raquazza. He also gave me a note that said he wanted me to have it for being the best mentor. This touched my heart and made me almost cry right there at breakfast.
After a while, I also connected with his parents a lot more after talking to his dad about different legends and stories that go around the different islands of Hawaii. We were talking alongside another dad from another family whom we refer to as Uncle Jay.
We also talked about how they visit Japan every year because the mom is Japanese, who is fluent in the language. I told him about how I love to follow anime and how I’ve always wanted to go to japan. The experience was magic.
Aside from Hawaii camp, I also got to hang out with the other mentors beforehand. This helped me a lot. This small but powerful experience showed me how much value this mentor group brings to the camp. They encouraged me to be more outgoing and pushed me to have new experiences that will forever influence my life.
I’m known for being more of the silent type that keeps to himself and spend most of my time doing schoolwork. However, the other mentors have showed me that not everything has to be this way. It's okay to open up and try new things that are out of your normal comfort zone.
Aside from the mentors, the camp itself is very inspiring as well as monumental. This camp truly encourages children with heart disease not to give up, to think of their condition as a blessing rather than a burden, and to make the best of their situation. Being a part of this camp and its message has been an honor.
It really brings us together and helps us bond not only as friends but also as one big happy family. I’m glad that out of everyone they could have picked to be a mentor, they chose me. In other words, I’m glad I could be part of a place and an atmosphere where kids meet, scars blend, and wonders happen, as the camp motto goes.