Life’s journey is surely surprising oftentimes. A brief encounter can have future ramifications one could not possibly foresee in the moment.
I met Dr Devin Chetan a few years ago, while photographing his sister’s wedding in Toronto. At the time, he was a medical school student at the McMaster University. His journey brought him to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, as a Pediatric Resident. It was the exposure to the little heart patients (many of whom had to spent weeks and months in the confinement of the hospital environment), that inspired Devin to create a special weekend for them, during which they could play and interact with other children in similar situations.
The ‘Little Heart Heroes’ project was born and I have been privileged enough to capture this very special event three summers in a row since its first year, 2017. I witnessed some of these children’s evolution and even talked to a few of them about the meaning of this experience in their lives. Please scroll to the very end of this blog to learn more about what they had to say!
Year after year, I have been so touched by the love, dedication and amount of extra care the fantastic volunteers have put into making sure all the children were not only comfortable, but had all their medical needs covered. My sincere admiration goes to them!
2019 was, again, all about having as much fun as possible. Whether playing with inflatables or just running around and laughing, the children were all smiles and the energy around them was simply intoxicating!
Camp Yowochas, located on lake Wabamun, was chosen the 3rd time around as main camp location for the weekend, and it was perfect once again! The staff excelled at hosting us all, preparing lovely meals and organizing some of the kids’ wonderful adventures. Highly recommended!
The campfire was again a big hit and, over two consecutive nights, the kids became marsh mallow roasting champions! Watching them experience so much joy was a real treat!
I was, once again, very touched by the organizers’ commitment to offering the kids 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, rock climbing, high replaying basketball and football and never saying no to anything!
Every single time I was quite amazed at the level of true camaraderie and support the little heart heroes offered each other during their activities. They embraced every opportunity to collaborate and worked so well together in teams. Their ability to just flow with each moment and make the best out of it were so inspiring!
And here is a very special section of the story, made so by a few of the returning children, who allowed me the opportunity for a conversation.
I was very interested to know how attending the camp over 3 years affected their lives. Here is what some of them had to say:
Heath – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right):
“The camp changed me a lot. Before, the only other person with a heart problem I knew was my grandfather. Now I know so many more just like me and it makes me feel comfortable. I also met Miguel and we became best friends!”
Madison – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
“The camp showed me that kids with heart conditions can also be active.
It was also great to meet other kids with the same condition. It made me feel so comfortable!”
Levi – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
“What I loved the most about the camp was the fact that I learned new skills (how to shoot a bow, for example) and I also learned about the importance of communication.
Fun fact: this time around it was hard to find balance with boots on!”
Alexis & Tyson (siblings) – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
Alexis: “Camp helped boost my confidence, especially knowing that I was not the only one who had to go through what I went through. This summer was great, I liked the fact that the girls interacted more”
Tyson: ” It was great to meet other kids like me and it was very exciting to come back”
Noah – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
“Camp was so much fun! It also made me feel comfortable and I loved making new friends this summer!”
Even though I did not have the chance to speak to all returning kids, I am sure their words would have not been very different from their interviewed friends’. I noticed a common thread regarding how comfortable they all felt amongst kids ‘just like them’, every year brought a new level of maturity and confidence in these children, which was very nice to see and also, returning to camp cemented a few wonderful friendships.
Cheyenne – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
Recquena – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
Maya – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
Kellen – 2017 (left), 2018 (middle), 2019 (right)
I will close with a paragraph I first wrote in my 2017 blog and I will probably use it as such every single time:
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 yet another special opportunity and big Congratulations to you and your amazing team!