Thirty-five smiling, excited kids waved at the crew in the University of Utah Hospital AirMed helicopter hovering just over the pond at Millcreek Canyon's Camp Tracy Monday, the wash of air from the rotor blades blowing back their hair and lifting mist off the water.
Nothing would distinguish these kids from any others who make summer forays to camp except that each of these children is on the recovery trail from traumatic burn injuries.
Camp Nah-Nah-Mah (Ute for "togetherness in friendship") started nine years ago and is an effort funded by the Professional Firefighters of Utah. All of the attendees were one-time patients at University of Utah Hospital's Regional Burn Unit, and many staffers at the burn unit take an active role in running the camp.
One of them is Brad Wiggins, a clinical nurse coordinator and camp co-director. Wiggins said the camp is a chance for kids who have shared similar challenges to find one another.
"This is a place to give burn patients a chance to be with each other," Wiggins said. "Kids with a skin graft may not know any kids who even know what that is here, they meet and hang out with other kids who have had the same experience."
Wiggins has been working on the post-treatment side of recovering burn patients for 16 years. He started by working as a counselor on river-rafting trips for adolescents, and he, along with Salt Lake City Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Fife, launched Camp Nah-Nah-Mah. Fife's work with recovering kids goes back 15 years, and he noted the high level of personal involvement of Utah firefighters in creating a comfortable, supportive and fun place for these young survivors to spend time in the summer.
"Regional fire departments are taking turns providing meals here at camp for the kids," Fife said. "Salt Lake City is making lunch today, Logan made breakfast this morning and South Jordan City volunteers showed a movie and had snacks and T-shirts for the campers."
Fife said firefighters he's spoken with have enjoyed the opportunity to meet the kids and be a part of camp on a hands-on basis.
Carla Coat is nurse at the burn unit who has been volunteering at the camp for the last four years, working as a counselor in previous years and this summer as camp nurse. She said the chance to see kids she's treated at the burn unit well on their way to recovery is a unique and rewarding experience.
"I love seeing the kids being happy and playing with each other," Coat said. "They're recovering, having fun and just being kids."
Wiggins said the burn unit at University Hospital is responsible for the biggest geographic region of any unit in the country and last year saw 425 patients, about 35 percent of which were children under 18. Camp Nah-Nah-Mah not only provides a place for these kids to find and make friends, he said, but also a chance to see the other side of their journey.
"Some of my counselors are adult burn survivors," Wiggins said. "Their presence here is a very important aspect it gives kids the chance to see the far side of recovery the people who have been through what they have and now are grown up, have kids and have a regular life."
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