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The Jaded Eye
This Camp Strengthens Frail Hearts
by Gerry Ayers
 

Many of you don't know my brother Geoffrey and his wife Jennifer lost a daughter at a young age to a rare heart disease several years ago. Nothing worse than losing a child. But both were determined to not mope, but put things in monumental motion.
Since baby Ellie spent much of her time at the children's Hershey Medical Center, they worked with physicians and officials there and came up with a great idea to not only honor Ellie, but to help children with similar heart ailments.
It all comes together in the form of Camp Lionheart, held at the Camp Kirchenwald grounds (10 miles southeast of the children's hospital in Hershey). For the past two years in early August it plays host to children preteen to age 18 who struggle with heart problems.
Many of the children attending have faced open heart surgery or have serious procedures to come. But the smiles and glee are galore at Camp Lionheart. They are not only safe, but get to be kids! Alas, there is 24/7 nurse and physician coverage during the weeklong event.
Jennifer Ayers, Ellie's mom and cofounder of the foundation for her, told both Harrisburg TV stations (ABC 27 and FOX 53 affiliates) the following, "This is her legacy. This is how she grows because she can't grow physically but can grow with these kids and these kids are always going to have this experience that means so much to them." 
Jennifer and Geoffrey maintain the Ellie’sHeartFoundation, which supports the camp.
This year, 24 children attended the camp, representing different areas of the state. They got to bond with each other and enjoy the beautiful outdoors of that area. Activities included swimming, kickball, archery, hiking, kayaking, pottery, campfires and cookouts. Doctors also gave informative presentations on how the heart works. 
By the looks on the campers’ faces on both television news reports, there were no broken hearts to be found on the premises. By the way, the cost is free to attend. Potential campers must fill out a form with a parent/guardian to be accepted for a spot on the roster.
One young male camper, pulled away from a busy preoccupation said, "You're able to get away from all the bullying and other stuff that goes on in your life, and you just have a week of peace and making friends that have the same problems as you." 
When I first caught wind of this camp, I wanted to feel sorry for them. Sick children can't be happy children — at least that's what I thought. I was proven wrong. Geoffrey and Jennifer were quick to point out that their energy is focused on the present and that the "worry wart" theory has no place at Camp Lionheart. It's an oasis where kids can be kids. And are far away from hospital beds and medical procedures.
Thus, no need to be "disheartened."
Honestly, to see these kids flapping like a dolphin in the crystal blue pool, or whipping down a trail on a bicycle would bring joy to your...heart! And I know my brother really puts his "heart and soul" into this project. I'm really proud of their accomplishments, and both him and his wife hope to see the camp continue for years to come.
They also brought their two children with them; my nephew Malcolm (the wizard) and my niece Amelia (the spitfire). "We do this to honor her (Ellie) and to keep her memory fresh in our minds," said the ever-involved Malcolm.
After meeting with the doctors, Malcolm has expressed a desire to be a heart surgeon. Last year it might have been to be on the technical design staff of a future Corvette. Now, instead of formulating and devising valve trains and power plants, it may be working on heart valves and pacemakers! Let's see what happens down the road!
My hectic schedule (and own treatments) prevented me from visiting these first two years of happy campers and counselors. I really would like to be a part of the fun and games and contribute. I think the camp could use me with an added bonus.
Before bedtime, I think a top down ride in one of my Ford Mustang convertibles with their choice of music sound track would be a perfect way to end the day. As the revs roar and the wind blows in their hair, one thing is bound to happen at sunset. 
Hearts flutter. 
And, as we all know, at any age, that's not a bad thing at all.

 
 
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