I have a Bleeding Disorder, now what?
How did I get a Bleeding Disorder?
What can a Bleeding Disorder cause?
Where do I go?
Tennessee Hemophilia & Bleeding Disorders Foundation
Another year of Camp Freedom has come and gone. Heavy-eyed campers and counselors head home with unforgettable memories, friends, skills, and the tune of “Squirrely” buzzing through their heads. This year marks the 39th anniversary of Camp Freedom, and I am humbled by such an amazing group of individuals.
For the past week 68 campers and 40 staff members affected by hemophilia and/or a bleeding disorder, partake in the freedom of camp activities and bonding with a community that understands the day-to-day struggles of living with a bleeding disorder. But don’t let this fool you. Upon visiting Camp Freedom for the first time, I see campers canoeing, swimming, playing music, learning archery, overcoming fears of the ropes course, playing basketball, tie-dying, laughing, dancing and singing. I was taken back to my own memories of camp and understood just how precious and important this week of the year is for these campers.
My visit starts with a stop at the pool, a group of girls are laughing and playing Marco-Polo. Aquatics Director, Jeff, explains to us the swimming test every camper must pass at the beginning of the week and the games and competitions campers enjoy most. Before long the girls are summoned out of the pool as it was time for their next activity; but before they go, they must demonstrate “The Squirrely.” They enthusiastically sing in harmony and show us their dancing skills as they shake their behind like a squirrel! And perform “The Squirrely” song. “The Squirrely” is used as a silly form of discipline the campers must perform if they forget their name tags, don’t pick up after themselves, etc. I think the counselors do this for some entertainment, and the campers seem just as entertained!
We move on to music class, where a group of boys are banging on buckets and exploring new and fun ways of expressing themselves. After an interactive set of drumming and tunes, we move on to the Ted E Bear clinic. A group of young girls are dressed up as doctors and are stuffing and personifying their own teddy bears. Young camper, Lola, introduces me to her floral patterned bear, Bloom, and tells me all about her sassy personality. As they stuff the bears, they learn of different genes and make the bears their own. Even cooler, campers are able to go home and teach their parents, family and friends all about hemophilia and their condition.
Moving on to lunch, we are entertained by lip-syncing contests and the opportunity to mix and mingle with campers and counselors. I sit next to a former camper now well into adulthood with children of his own. He has come back to visit with old friends and former campers, now counselors themselves. He tells me about how important Camp Freedom was to his childhood; how it gave him the opportunity to be a “normal kid”. Bullied at a young age for being different and living with hemophilia, Camp Freedom meant he could interact with kids coping with similar experiences and quickly became an outlet for support and exploration.
After lunch it’s time to visit the infirmary. Young camper, Will, is happy to demonstrate how he is able to stick himself and inject himself with factor, the expensive medication that can cost thousands per dose. As part of camper’s daily itinerary, they spend an hour a day in the infirmary learning how to safely self-administer their medications, cheering on others, and offering one another support. Once a camper is able to stick themselves for the first time, they receive the “Big Stick Award” a highly coveted award that represents overcoming the obstacles of hemophilia and reclaiming their freedom.
Camp Freedom is much more than a summer camp where kids escape for fun and games. Camp Freedom is a place that brings together a larger community of brothers and sisters who share a common bond, work on teambuilding, and self-esteem. It’s a place where those living with hemophilia or a bleeding disorder are not defined or confined to their disorders. And thanks to the staff and supporters who helped fund and participate in camp, you made it possible. After this years visit to Camp Freedom, I look forward to year 40 and am hopeful to attend as a counselor myself. I am so proud of this community for their courage, determination, and ability.
Please help spread the word by sharing this post with your friends and family and let them know about your experience with Camp Freedom and what it means to you. Together, we can enhance the lives of those affected by hemophilia and bleeding disorders; let’s make next year one for the books.