Camp offers safe haven for pediatric burn patients

From the Winter 2015 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Photo by Meg Logan
Photo by Meg Logan

Children make up a large portion of the Burn Center’s patient population. The most severely injured children who require a ventilator go to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, while the less critical children

occupy a special room in the Burn Center specially decorated and outfitted for these younger patients.

Pediatric patients are often victims of kitchen accidents such as hot liquid or deep fryer scalds. Other common child burns stem from playing with lighters or a bonfire gone awry. Tragically, a lot of pediatric burn patients are victims of abuse.

Regardless of what put them there, many of these former patients come together through a special opportunity called Camp Hope.

For 25 years, former patients of the Vanderbilt Burn Center have gathered for this free camp for burn survivors ages 6 to 16, offering these children a chance to take part in a week of summer activities while recovering from the devastating physical and psychological injuries associated with burns.

It is self-esteem that Camp director Rebekah 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.”

Vanderbilt nurses, physicians, occupational and physical therapists and respiratory therapists, 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, which is held at the William P. Ridley 4-H Center in Columbia, Tennessee.

Lemley says the camp provides a safe place for dialogue among peers with similar experiences.

“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 14-year-old burn survivor from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, 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.”