Kids with heart disease bond at camp

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COLEBROOK, Pa. (WHTM) — A new summer camp is bringing children with congenital heart disease together.

Camp Kirchenwald in Lebanon County is playing host to more than a dozen youth campers this week as part of the inaugural Camp Lionheart. The camp, organized by Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, is designed to introduce kids to others who suffer from similar defects and conditions in a fun, inclusive setting.

“I don’t think there is a lot of awareness about congenital heart disease,” said Dr. Linda Pauliks with Penn State Children’s Hospital Heart Group. “One in 100 children is affected, but it’s relatively common for many kids in their school to be the only one who has it.”

Matthew Kreider, a teen from Lancaster County, suffers from pulmonary atresia, a condition he describes as “having just one side of a heart, instead of two.” He says taking part in the camp gives him the chance to share common experiences with peers and make friends who understand his physical limitations.

“(I can say) Hey, have you experienced this?” he says. “And definitely a shoulder to lean on, or just say hey, I’m having a hard time. Help me figure this out. Because friends, for me, help me get through this so much better.”

The camp opportunity comes at little cost to the youth thanks to funding from Ellie’s Heart Foundation. The non-profit support agency was formed in 2012 in memory of Eleanor Lily Ayers, a pediatric heart patient who died at just 8 months of age.

On Tuesday, on what would have been Ellie’s fifth birthday, her mother Jennifer Ayers led campers in an emotional release of live butterflies.

“I’ve always associated butterflies with Ellie since she’s passed,” Ayers told campers. “She was a Heart Warrior like you guys. It means so much to me to be able to have this camp for you so that you can meet other heart warriors.”Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC27 News App and the ABC27 Weather App for your phone and tablet.

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