(Guest blog post for Adult Congenital Heart Association by Cassandra Reinbold)
Two weeks after I was born, the doctor came rushing in with more doctors behind him during my check-up to discover I had a special heart. Appointment after appointments, they discovered I was born with an unrepairable ventricular septal defect. My first surgery was when I was five months old and my second surgery was when I was a year and five months old.
When I was an adult, my sinus node began to fail, so I had my third open heart surgery when I was 25 to get my pacemaker to keep the beat of my heart regular. The surgeries have given me so much potential to do things in life; if I didn’t have such a great team of doctors and support from family and friends, I wouldn’t have been able to get as far as I have in life.
Camp Odayin was the beginning of my understanding that I wasn’t the only one out there with the struggles I had to face in life—from being last running the mile to sitting out because I was too tired or even staying home longer from school to get better from a simple illness. I thought I was the only one to go through the things I was experiencing.
Summer of 2003, I was able to be normal by going to Camp Odayin. Kids around me were just like me and activities were equally as fun because I wasn’t the only one winded or tired. Persevering through it all was easier with making friends who had the same problems as me. Friendships and bonds were made and Camp Odayin had become a new family that I could actually just be me with.
None of this would have been possible for me and every child that comes to Camp Odayin if it wasn’t for the volunteers who took their time to spend with us. Volunteers that left family, friends, their own children, maybe skipped work, and used their vacation time to spend time with children with special hearts. It brought light to me, knowing the volunteers really cared about each and every one of us for the short week we had at camp. When I was a camper, I promised to give my time to the kids of Camp Odayin just like the many volunteers that gave their time. In 2011, I fulfilled my dream of becoming a counselor for Camp Odayin and I continue to do so year after year.
Being a counselor for these children has given me a new outlook on living my life. As a camper, I took in all the fun and different experiences that Camp Odayin had to offer with theme nights and different activities like archery. You witness bonds of these children having the same issue or same type of experience with having a special heart. Just being able to give these children a chance to be normal has given me a gratitude towards the past, current, and future volunteers of Camp Odayin. You get to experience interaction as a whole with these children and see a new light surrounding everyone who is involved.
When you volunteer and witness these children experience new things they may have never experienced because they were limited, your eyes open to a new perspective with understanding of feeling equal and as a whole family. When you volunteer for Camp Odayin, you become part of the family that continuously grows and brings so much joy for the children and yourself.