Friday, July 22, 2011
An estimated 10,000 children suffer burn injuries in the U.S. each year. Recovering from such trauma is tough. But a summer camp in San Diego County's Cuyamaca Mountains gives young burn survivors a boost.
SAN DIEGO There are dozens of summer camps in San Diego County. But this week, a special camp in the Cuyamaca Mountains marks its 25th anniversary.
A select group of 70 campers are getting some life lessons while they enjoy some fun in the sun.
It’s called Camp Beyond the Scars - a phrase has special meaning to each one of the campers here. That’s because they’ve all survived burn injuries.
Tiffany Vargas, age 12, has been coming to this camp in the Cuyamaca Mountains for the last five years. She loves it.
"You get to be with other burn survivors like yourself," Vargas said. "You don’t have to hide your scars."
Tiffany got her scars a long time ago.
"I was four years old, in the kitchen looking for something to eat," she recalled. "And my aunt was cooking some soup, and the pot broke and it fell on me."
The accident left Tiffany with severe scarring up and down her left arm. Even after a number of skin grafts and other operations, the skin on her arm is discolored and uneven. But she doesn’t feel sorry for herself.
"I’ve loved my scar ever since I was a little kid," Vargas pointed out. "I always called it my secret dragon. So, I just love my scar, and I’m proud to have it on me.
That’s the attitude this camp tries to foster in young burn survivors, while teaching the kids to let lose and have fun.
Jim Floros heads up the Burn Institute, the San Diego non-profit that runs the camp.
"A lot of people don’t realize that when you’re severely burned, you’re a burn survivor for life," Floros said. "It is something you will deal with every day of your life. There’s never going to be a day where you woke up and say, okay, I’m better now."
"There’s the physical trauma that a burn survivor goes through," Floros continued. "It’s the initial injury, it’s the treatment, and there’s post traumatic stress disorder that goes along with that, but then there’s the psychological challenges, mental challenges, that burn survivors face."
Floros said by being with fellow burn survivors, kids learn to feel better about themselves. They also learn some coping skills. And during the week-long camp, they’re kept plenty busy - arts and crafts, peer counseling, and physical activities, including swimming, hiking, and relay races.
While campers are having fun, they’re also developing a sense of camaraderie, and teamwork.
All of the camp counselors are volunteers. Most are firefighters.
San Diego firefighter Catie Casciari is back for her fourth year with the kids. Casciari said she’s learned a lot from them.
"Everybody has their own scars, and they might not be as visible," Casciari said. "But, everybody needs to learn to deal with them and live with them. And the kids are doing that every day."
And every day at camp, counselors and campers gather to recognize each other’s accomplishments. It’s a ritual that captures the spirit of Camp Beyond the Scars.
"I would like to recognize Talie," said one counselor, "for opening up with us at camp, and she’s been having a lot of fun and trying new things."
A young camper stepped to the front of the crowd. "Memo," he said pointing to a friend, "for shaving off most of the first level of skin on his finger, when he was doing the rock climbing.
Another young camper made through the throng. "I’d like to recognize Jason for trying really hard on the skateboard."
Video by Katie Euphrat