The idea of attending a camp for transplant recipients didn’t really appeal to Libby Arterburn until her sophomore year of high school.
“I don’t know why I chose that year,” she said. Maybe it was because she spent so much time in the hospital that year from contracting H1N1 “way after everyone else had already been immunized and gotten past it.” That put her in constant contact with members of the Transplant staff, the same people who would organize and serve as the volunteer staff at Camp SOAR in the spring.
Or maybe she went simply because she wanted to be around other kids who knew what she was going through. Kids who knew what it was like to spend every major holiday “besides maybe Easter” at least once in the hospital. Kids who knew how it felt to have more make-up work than regular work at school and what it was like having to take daily rounds of anti-rejection medications.
Libby, who received two liver transplants at age 4, said she never felt particularly isolated at her school because of her condition. “More unique,” she clarified. Going to Camp SOAR afforded her the chance to be just like everyone else for once.
Before the bus ever left the Children’s parking lot to go to the weekend camp’s location at Camp John Marc in Meridian, Texas, she met two friends who she still keeps in touch with. Then she met several others once they actually arrived.
“It was very easy to make friends,” she said. “We all share similar backgrounds.”
But the campers didn’t just sit around and commiserate about why they were there. They went fishing, shot bows and arrows, rode zip lines and participated in cooking classes – regular camp stuff but all under the supervision of the same expert staff who treat them at Children’s.
“It’s not necessarily in-depth conversations with other campers,” she said. “It’s being together with other people who go through the same things you do. It’s important to know that you’re not the only one.”
That’s exactly why Camp SOAR, which stands for Some Organ Assembly Required, was founded in 1993. Its stated mission is: “To provide an opportunity for teens with a transplant to develop supportive relationships, to discuss relevant adolescent issues, and to strengthen the trust and rapport between the youth and their medical teams.”
For nearly 20 years now, it has been an annual highlight for solid organ (liver, kidney, heart and/or intestine) transplant patients between the ages of 13 and 18 at Children’s. And all campers go for free because of generous donations and grants.
Libby returned to Camp SOAR her junior year to reconnect with the friends she made the year before. Then, this spring, she skipped her senior prom to attend her last year of camp.
“Camp SOAR was more important to me,” she said.
On her last day of camp, Libby went through a graduation ceremony along with a few other 18-year-olds. Each was given a chance to briefly reflect on what camp had meant to them.
When it was Libby’s turn, she said: “I just wish I had started coming to Camp SOAR sooner.”
If you would like to learn more about Camp SOAR, call 214-456-6447.