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'I’ve never met another heart child before': Kids with heart disease find community at Sask. summer camp


After a two-year break due to the pandemic, a unique summer camp is returning.

The Children's Healthy-Heart Activity Monitoring Program Saskatchewan (CHAMPS) camp offers kids with congenital heart conditions from the ages of 7 to 17 a summer camp experience.

“Kids that are affected with congenital heart disease have varying degrees of it. Some are very severe, some are very mild,” Lynne Telfer, the co-Founder of CHAMPS camp told CTV News.

Telfer and another mom started the camp in 2015 — they both have kids with congenital heart disease who are now adults.

“The idea came from these heart parents who didn’t know what to do with their children as far as physical activity and their mental health,” she says.

The camp is funded by the Mending Little Hearts Fund and administered by the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Monday mark be a special reunion for those who attend the day camp at the Physical Activity Complex at the University of Saskatchewan.

The 30 participants will find other children like themselves.

“In our first year of camp, one of the kids said, 'I’ve never met another heart child before. I thought I was the only one,'” Telfer, said.

The Saskatchewan-born camp concept also took top honours in a western Canada contest this year.

Judges liked it so much that they wanted to start the process to get it operating in other provinces.

“We were picked, we were the winners of this campaign. We won 10-thousand dollars to set up a manual to set up camps like ours,” Telfer said.

Another award-winning element at this camp - also comes from a heart patient.

Siena Smith, 10, was born with a hole in her heart. Now, she’s giving back by collecting teddy bears to give to kids going in for heart surgery.

“We came up with the idea to give them all teddy bears cause then they’ll have someone to hug during the journey,” Siena Smith told CTV News.

In 2021 she started asking friends and family to buy teddy bears and she’d do the rest, then it took off in a big way.

“More people started buying teddy bears and I was delivering them and got 300. We get the teddy bears, and we bring them to the hospital,” she says.

When she was just one year old, Siena had heart surgery and travelled to Vancouver.

She received a bear and still has it with her saying it’s a little dirtier and had to be repaired a few times, but the meaning it holds is something special.

It is a memory of how far she’s come according to her mom, Sabrina Castellano-Smith.

They started the drive in their home city of Winnipeg, but this summer are expanding it to Saskatchewan where kids must travel out of the province for heart surgery.

“I’m super proud and my husband Mark is so proud of Siena. Something so small, or what some people would think is so small- look what it’s grown into,” Castellano-Smith told said.

They collected 300 bears in Manitoba and hope to collect 100 next week in Saskatchewan at the camp which starts Monday at The University of Saskatchewan.

Mending Little Hearts raises funds to include 30 kids each year and all of those, get to follow their hearts to summer camp.

Teddy bears can be dropped off at the U of S Physical Activity Complex between July 11 and July 15. Drop-off times can be arranged by emailing Top Stories

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