August 9th, 2010
03:38 PM ET

Burn camp 'the difference' for survivor

Summer camp means swimming, campfires and meeting new friends. For Chelsea Gasper and other burn survivors, camp can also means emotional healing.

The Finger Lakes Regional Burn Association annual Burn Camp just wrapped up, and Chelsea, 17, was there as she has been every year since she was five. This year, she was a junior counselor.

“You have to regain your confidence [after being burned]. Burn camp was the difference. Meeting people and having fun. Seeing other kids with burns,” says Chelsea, a high school student from Webster, N.Y.

Chelsea received burns over a third of her body when she was three: On her forehead, stomach and both legs, arms and hands. Her injury was the result of a freak accident. When a grease fire erupted in her then New York City home one night, she ran out the back door. Not knowing she was there, Chelsea’s father opened the door and threw the flaming oil into the darkness.

Chelsea says she doesn’t remember getting burned, but the teenager has had to deal with the physical and emotional pain ever since. She says the fellowship of burn camp has been invaluable.

“Camp is like a second family for me. I feel comfortable here. It’s just fun,” she says.

Paul Schwartzman, executive director of the Finger Lakes Regional Burn Association, says the free camp in Painted Post, NY, offers a chance each summer for 40 to 45 campers to relax with other kids who share what can be an isolating experience.

They also learn ways to address both curiosity and bullying stemming from their disfiguring burns, he says. Schwartzman, a licensed mental health counselor, adds that the benefits last long after the camp ends.

“We get incredible feedback. Just the notion of being socially accepted,” he says. “They may be more willing to put the bathing suit on at the public beach. They may be more open to talking about their experiences.”

He points to Chelsea as an example of someone who was introverted and shy only a few years ago. Camp, he says, has helped her emerge into someone willing to talk about her experience.

The Children’s Burn Foundation in Sherman Oaks, Calif., holds four burn camps during the year. Carol Horvitz, executive director at the Children’s Burn Foundation, says children leave the camps different than when they arrived.

“These camps make a long lasting impact on these children. It speeds their recovery. It speeds their ability to reenter the world with a sense of purpose and belonging,” she says.

Programming note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta will host a special edition of “Sanjay Gupta MD” on Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET, devoted to the story of Youssif, an Iraqi boy savagely burned by masked men in Baghdad and treated in Los Angeles, thanks to the generosity of people around the world moved by his story.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. CC

    Burn survivors and/or burn camp organizers should contact their local "angel flight organization for assistance in getting kids to camp from their homes. Our pilots (Angel Flight West) know first hand what a great experience it is for these kids to be able to spend a week with other kids who are just like they are. Transportation is provided in small private aircraft by pilots who donate their time and the cost of tlying their aircraft. Qualifying critiera varies for each regional group. To find an "angel flight" in your area go to http://www.aircareall.org

    August 9, 2010 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Daniel Day

    I am a chronic pain patient for whom there is no other effective treatment other than narcotic pain medication. Years after having two surgeries on my neck, I have developed stenosis, lordosis, and arthritis. Furthermore, there are over seven bone spurs, of various sizes, scattered throughout my neck from C-2 through C-7. Without my pain medication, I would be virtually bedridden; with my pain medication I have been able to be gainfully employed, attend college to complete a four year degre in accounting, and live a fairly normal life. I deeply resent the fact that your reporting concerning addiction to presciption medications relentlessly implies that anyone who needs to take pain medication on a regular basis is an addict. The fact is that 99% plus of chronic pain patients take their medication exactly as prescribed by their doctor. The bias in your reporting is inadvertently harming chronic patients by distorting the perspective of your audience. Please correct this error by doing a report on chronic pain patients who need to take narcotic pain medication, and who do so responsibly, as directed by their physician. Thank you, Daniel Day dday04@baker.edu.

    August 9, 2010 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Biff

    It is probably not a good idea to have CAMPFIRES at burn camp. HELLOOOOOO

    August 10, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. T.R

    To the person that said you shouldnt do campfires at burn camp? Why not ? Yes the children that go to camp are burn survivors but they shouldn't have to live in fear of fire for the rest of their lives because they were burned.That's where fire safety and being extra cautious comes into play. We want to teach these kids to feel comfortable and feel that they have a place in this world and to do this we create a normal environment for them to feel that they do belong and that they are no different.

    August 10, 2010 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Don

    Biff, I wondered that as well when I first went to a burn camp. I go to http://greatlakesburncamp.com every single summer for about 10 or 12 years and part of healing is doing normal things. This camp, like several others, is available absolutely free of charge to pediatric burn survivors. We teach them to waterski and a percentage each year even barefoot waterski. They are just kids who want to have fun and need some love. If you know a kid who should go by all means refer them please. You see above what a difference it made in Ms. Gasper's life.

    August 11, 2010 at 07:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Sandy E

    This is such a great foundation! I heard Shanna Moakler (Miss USA) is competing on NBC's Minute to Win It this Monday, and I really do wish she is able to raise a lot of money for the camp! I'm tuning in so I can support her and this glorious foundation!

    August 20, 2010 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Callisto raymond

    I go here it iz mad fun

    July 31, 2011 at 00:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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