ZELIENOPLE (KDKA) — Camp Kon-o-kwee offers a myriad of activities this time of year. But 130 kids at “Heart Camp” share a common bond.
Every one of the campers has some form of heart disease, a condition which sets them apart from other kids their age. Heart camp is one place where everyone understands.
“I was told I had to have open heart surgery. How many in this room have had open heart surgery?”
Dozens of hands are raised, as KDKA’s Susan Koeppen shared her story with youngsters who have stories of their own.
“You have a lot of questions when you’re a heart patient,” she added. “You have a lot of concerns. You have a lot of worries. And to be around people who know what you’re going through is really important.”
Retired cardiologist Bill Neches founded the camp 23 years ago to help kids find answers they won’t find in a hospital.
“What it’s like to be an 11-year-old with heart disease,” he explains. “What it’s like to be a 16-year-old and go on a date, what it’s like to be in college.”
It’s a week the campers won’t forget.
“Interesting walking around seeing everyone who has the same scar or different scars, to remind me I’m not the only one,” says camp counselor Kelly Henry.
“It’s nice to see people who have it too, so I can relate to them,” adds camper Kelly Furge.
The comfort they’ve been given is oftentimes paid forward. Seven-year camp veteran Jon Hochstein has his future mapped out.
“I had a heart transplant 14 years ago,” he says. “And because if it, I want to be an open heart surgeon.”