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A summer camp with heart

On 168 acres of a former family farm in Scottsville, a summer camp experience like none other is unfolding this weekend.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Camp Brave Hearts offers a rare opportunity for children with congenital heart defects, those who require medical treatment for heart conditions, or have undergone heart surgery.

For many kids, the week at the Center for Courageous Kids is their first time in this type of outdoor environment. Doctors and nurses accompany the campers to accommodate their medical needs as they swim, ride horses, fish, rock climb, and experience classic camp hi-jinks.

“The camp gives children with heart disease a slice of summer fun and place to be a kid,” says Samantha Stallings, a Brave Hearts alum who returns this year as a camp counselor. “Thank you, Joyce and Dennis McClain, Dr. Boone, Dr. Sobczyk, and the many other doctors who founded a camp where kids with congenital heart defects can just go have fun.”

“The camp is a paradise where these children with physical limitations can be ‘normal,'” adds Pam Stallings, Samantha’s mother. “It is a place where they can interact with other children with heart disease and experience a feeling of identity and belonging.”

For many of the campers who bear the scars of heart surgeries, it is their first time in a swimsuit. Yet some feel so at ease among new friends that they compare their incisions with each other. The camp even has a comic book developed by longtime camper Lenn Wallace. The Zipper Club is included in items and information sent home with the littlest Brave Hearts when released from Norton Healthcare hospitals.

Other traditions continue this year at Camp Brave Hearts, including the ever popular “Messy Games,” which ends with camp counselors smeared with shaving cream, and the Try-Athlete Trot, a fundraiser for BraveHeart alums.

Samantha Stallings’ team, Trooper Island Gang, is challenging all camp alumni to donate.

“Samantha is who she is today because of the support received from this group of individuals,” her mother added. “Adversity breeds not only compassion but success. What gifts are given to us we should pass on to others.”

Family, friends, and supporters will gather in the garden area next to Plaza 1 at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital at 4001 Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville at 11:30am Saturday to give the 100  Brave Hearts campers a heartfelt sendoff.

Current and former campers will bring photos for a large camp collage wall and will enjoy games, face painting, and food from Salsarita’s. Support for the campers is provided through the Children’s Hospital Foundation.

“We salute everyone who has contributed to this incredible experience, and look forward to many more years of fun times we have ahead of us,” Stallings said. “We all are so thankful for their many years of dedication and leadership.”

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