Life works in mysterious ways. We go through our experiences and oftentimes we may not be fully aware of the impact our work in the world has on others…
Back in 2011 I photographed a fantastic wedding in Toronto, my current home city. It was a culturally rich and colourful event, moments of which I vividly recall to the day. At the time, the brother of the bride, Devin Chetan, was a medical school student at the McMaster University.To my surprise and delight, he contacted me last summer, as a Pediatric Resident at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. He shared his vision and passion for the Little Heart Heroes project and asked if I would be interested to join and telI the story through my lens.I resonated with this incredible idea immediately and I could not wait for it to come to fruition. It sounded tremendously important for both the kids and their parents.
As it happens with everything meant to be, all the necessary elements clicked into position ultimately and Devin, with the help of his very special and dedicated colleagues, made the camp happen at the beginning of August 2017.
I am sure there is a lot of planning, attention and care involved with every kids camp. But this was different. The 17 children who attended had truly special stories to tell…Many of them were born with half a functioning heart. They had to undergo open heart surgery in their first week of life and have had multiple open heart surgeries by the time they are only a few years old. Others were born with different forms of complex structural heart malformations or had undergone heart transplants..Little fighters, surviving champions. Heroes in their own right!
Ultra special had to be the care given to these kids, for not only they had to do very well while away from home, but their parents had to rest assured they had nothing to worry about. The number of volunteers outnumbered the children participating. And these volunteers were very special people, too: pediatric cardiology nurses, pediatric residents, and pediatric specialists… all high caliber professionals, many having known and cared for the kids previously.
Everything had to be smooth, some of these children being on a strict and oftentimes complex medicine schedule.
Camp Yowochas, located on lake Wabamun, was the chosen location for the weekend and it was perfect! The staff excelled at hosting us all, preparing lovely meals and organizing some of the kids’ wonderful adventures on their beautiful premises. A must visit!
Really loved the spirit of camaraderie shared by these beautiful kids, they were always eager to jump in and help!
I was very touched by the organizers’ commitment to the kids having the best time ever. Many of the little heroes experienced some of the perfectly planned adventures for the first time and had a huge amount of fun. They have been equally engaged with water fights, archery, zip-lining, rock climbing, canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, never saying no to anything!
There was no questioning around any of the activities proposed to the kids. Contrary, as time progressed and they knew each other better, their desire to play and collaborate grew exponentially. Their ability to just flow with each moment and make the best out of it were so inspiring!
Our little heart heroes were kept very busy with lots of creative activities. It was really sweet to watch them unleash their imagination and be so eager to work together in teams and share ideas.
This is Miguel updating his journal. I asked him what he liked to write about and he answered: “everything!” with a big smile. Who knows, maybe one day he will be a published author!
Decorating their own super heroe capes was a creative challenge the kids seem to excel at! Once done, they wore these capes with so much pride!
I remember watching the kids get involved in activities (such as archery) for the very first time ever, yet excelling and looking like real pros! Their joy and enthusiasm, couple with their constant avid curiosity, made them simply unstoppable.
I learned lots from these children just by watching the way they were encouraging themselves through the given challenges. I could hear words like ‘I can do this!’ or “I can make it!” spoken quite often…words I should remember to tell myself at times when hesitation hinders my decision making.
Little Madison’s triumphant climb all the way to the top will stay with me forever. It was a moment of intense joy for this girl (shared with so much enthusiasm by the other kids watching and cheering her). The glow on her face when she came back down was priceless. She was also very happy to learn that she also had this moment immortalized on camera.
Thank you Madison for showing us all what determination and belief in your own power can do!
The campfire was really enjoyed by the kids and, over two consecutive nights, they became marsh mallow roasting champions! It was a real treat watching them experience so much joy.
The full moon reflected into Lake Wabamun was truly an epic conclusion of this remarkable experience.
I came out of this one-of-a-kind, heart opening, inspiring weekend deeply affected and reflecting on life. The Little Heart Heroes are here to inspire us all to be fearless in deciding to live our lives fully and to cherish every single moment we have. These incredible kids are messengers of love, compassion and connection. I am grateful to have known them and also thankful to their admirable parents who lovingly decided to be trusting and fearless themselves while allowing their children to go on this unique adventure.
Thank you Devin for this very special opportunity and big Congratulations to you and your amazing team. You rocked these kids’ world…and mine!
Left to right: Devin (Pediatric Resident), Rehana (General Pediatrician), Melissa (Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician), Vijay (Pediatric Cardiac Critical Care Physician)
Here are the wonderful Little Heart Heroes with their respective teams and leaders:
The “Rainbow Heart Girls” team:
Left to right, back: Julia, Carissa, Cheyanne; Letf to right, front: Ola (Pediatric Resident), Madison, Kristen (Pediatric Resident), Tamara (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse Practitioner)
The “Purple Princesses” team:
Left to right, back: Kylie (Pediatric Resident), Alyssa (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse), Cynthia (Pediatric Resident), Paige (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse); Left to right, front: Alexis, Racquena, Maya, Olivia
The “Green Ninjas and a Goat” team:
Left to right, back: Melissa (Pediatric Nurse), Cielle (Pediatric Resident), Jawad (Pediatric Resident); Left to right, front: Noah, Miguel, Joshua, Cole
The “Diamond Chicken Nuggetz (aka The Nuggz)” team:
Left to right, back: Telford (Pediatric Resident), Nick (Pediatric Resident), Jennifer (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse), Alyssa (Pediatric Cardiology Unit Clerk), Brady; Left to right, front: Heath, Tyson, Kellen, Levi, Austin
Many thanks also to the following volunteers: Rezwana (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse), Sandra (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse Educator), Katie (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse), Laura (Pediatric Cardiology Nurse)