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Many summer camps go virtual amid coronavirus pandemic

Camp is the highlight of the summer for many children, but for those with rare disorders, it is even more valuable.

INDIANAPOLIS — Virtual summer camp. Those are words we never really imagined would be a reality — until the coronavirus pandemic happened. 

Camp is the highlight of the summer for many children, but for those with rare disorders, it is even more valuable.

Brothers Elias, 11, and Emmett, 7, both have severe Hemophilia A, a serious bleeding disorder that drastically alters their lives. Even minor injuries can cause major bleeding problems.

Elias started attending Camp Brave Eagle at Camp Crosley in North Webster, Indiana, several years ago. Camp Brave Eagle is hosted by the Indiana Hemophilia and Thrombosis Center (IHTC) and Hemophilia of Indiana (HOII), welcoming nearly 150 kids with bleeding disorders and their siblings each year. 

The week-long outdoor adventure camp gives these kids a chance to play, create and learn alongside their peers while continuing to make memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Along the way, interactive lessons on healthy living encourage them to put what they’ve learned about their blood disorders into practice and share their experiences with other children who are going through the same health challenges.

Along with Elias and Emmett, 130 kids will join Camp Brave Eagle virtually this year. 

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Things kicked off last week as the campers received their camp boxes.

Their mom, Vanessa, said she is grateful the boys still get to take part in the summer tradition.

 "I think it's really awesome because everything has been literally canceled since school ended in March," Vanessa said. "It's really nice to be able to fill in and create a little bit of normalcy because I think the kids' worlds are so turned upside down from school and then from summer. I'm really appreciative, and we've really filled in things just to make it a lot of fun."

Jen Maahs, pediatric nurse at IHTC, helped organize all the activities for the campers this year.

"We've been getting them to do all kinds of crazy things, like putting up a swim area behind us. Then, I gave them two minutes to go find a towel because we were going to swimming. They all ran back with the towel, and it's cute to see them laughing at each other, making rules and doing funny things," Maahs said.

This year, Camp Brave Eagle campers logged on for a Zoom call every evening, which included fun events, talked to their “cabin mates” and learned about the following day’s activity challenge. Campers completed the activity during the day and then shared stories and pictures during the evening call. Some activities include making s’mores and friendship bracelets, a nature scavenger hunt, playing games and sports.

Vanessa said Elias and Emmett loved the virtual summer camp but said they are looking forward to being back around the campfire with other campers next summer.

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