By Melissa O’Brien

This was our first time at Camp Thunderbird and only our second time attending a Children’s Heart Network event. What a great experience and invaluable opportunity to meet some other heart families. Coming from Comox, we’ve met very few heart families over the past nine years since my heart child was born. After our three-hour drive, we arrived at Camp Thunderbird, which is large but feels very much rustic and deep in the woods. We were greeted by an enthusiastic YMCA camp leader in addition to our CHN host Krista. Each of our three kids was given a collection of fun goodies that provided endless entertainment throughout the weekend. All five of us were given T-shirts. Immediately it felt like we were being welcomed into a supportive group that we’d been longing for—a group of parents and families like us, who in our experience to date, have been very few and far between. After settling into our cabin (full of six sets of bunks, a bathroom, and a shower), dinner followed and we had the chance to meet the other heart families in attendance. I found myself observing them at dinner, wondering what their experience has been, how they’ve managed the stress and triumphs, and how their other children have fared. It’s definitely a different journey as a heart family and it was comforting to be in among people who understood, even if I didn’t know them yet.

Over the course of the weekend, there were all sorts of activities, including archery, rock climbing, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, and evening campfires. With all of our meals provided and schedules planned, there was a lot of room for family time in addition to time where we could engage with the other families. The evening campfires were incredibly entertaining with the camp leaders providing songs and improv skits that our kids are still singing and raving about even now that we’re home. Being the introverts that we are, a weekend is a short amount of time for my husband and me to truly connect with others, but knowing from the start that we already had a very personal thing in common with each of the other families (our heart child), this gave way to meaningful conversations that might otherwise have taken longer to unfold. It was on the second evening that I met another heart mom that I really connected with. Although her son’s diagnosis was much different than that of my son, our journeys had so many cross-overs (our child’s life full of assessment, medication, other diagnoses being added to the mix, sibling dynamics, etc.). I found that I just wanted to keep talking with her. I could relate to her in ways that I can’t with even my closest friends. Our conversations that evening and the next day were not long, but to know somebody else nearby who knows what it feels like in these shoes is the best thing that I came away with from Camp Thunderbird. As for my kids, I don’t think they thought too much about the emotional side of it all. They had so much fun experiencing new activities and living camp life that their biggest takeaway is their wish to return next year. Thank you, Children’s Heart Network, for having given our family this very unique opportunity.

“Thunderbird Family Camp” is from our summer 2019 newsletter, Heart Matters. See our Newsletters page for more stories and to subscribe.