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St. Luke's team members volunteer, help see debut of Camp Hope for kids with epilepsy

Many of the volunteers at Camp Hope this summer were St. Luke's team members.
By Jamie Hudson, News and Community
October 13, 2023
Idaho’s new Camp Hope opened its doors for the first time this summer, welcoming 15 kids with epilepsy.

Each participant, between 10 and 16 years old, experienced what it was like to attend camp away from home for the first time thanks to more than 20 volunteers — including several St. Luke’s employees — and countless hours of preparation.

The free camp took place in Fairfield in early August at the new location of Camp Rainbow Gold, funded through the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho. Camp Hope, Idaho’s first epilepsy camp, allowed children to stay close to home instead of leaving the state to attend a similar specialized medical camp.

Kids at Camp Hope had a wealth of activities, from mountain biking to archery and arts and crafts.
Dr. Mikaela Sebree, camp director and a St. Luke’s Children’s pediatric neuropsychologist, said camp leaders picked activities that allowed kids to experience a typical camp despite any medical challenges. She was excited to create a memorable experience while meeting patient safety needs.

Activities included mountain biking, arts and crafts, archery, tie dye, music and a water balloon fight. One participant learned to ride a bike for the first time: volunteers said her smile was incredible. The campers also participated in a digital photography activity. 

“Every kid said camp wasn’t long enough,” Sebree said. “Two campers want to come back as junior counselors next year.”

Tessa Doyle and Emily Zimmermann, both St. Luke’s registered nurses, helped develop Camp Hope. They explained that even though each guest had different needs, the camp provided a safe environment for kids to talk with each other and normalize taking seizure medication. 

Doyle and Zimmermann also shared that the camp showed the kids they can do many of the same activities of kids who don’t have seizures. The setting helped foster friendships among kids with similar conditions and show they are not alone. 

Many adult volunteers with epilepsy supported the camp, providing perspective for campers to see that they can grow up and function well as adults. Doyle and Zimmermann also saw older campers take younger ones under their wing, creating a bonding experience regardless of age differences.

The volunteer staff arrived at camp a day prior to the campers to receive epilepsy-specific medical training, including first aid. In addition to counselors, four nurses, two social workers, a medical director, camp director, volunteer coordinator and an activity support volunteer teamed up to support campers on site.

St. Luke's neurology RN Tessa Doyle with her son, Brogan, a Boise State nursing student who served as a counselor.
Zimmermann, who works in neurology at St. Luke’s, said the camp was a fun way to build rapport with patients outside the office. 

“Patients have a different relationship where they know who I am and are more excited to see me,” Zimmermann said. “They associate me with the fun from camp and not just their seizures.”

Though she’s worked in neurology for more than a decade, Doyle said that being in the campers’ shoes for a weekend was a different experience. It allowed her to see what kids go through each day. 

“It was encouraging to see the kids’ resilience, having a seizure and then wanting to go back and jump into playing with their friends,” she said. “It humanized us as nurses, that we’re not just there in the clinic but people outside of it.”

Doyle’s son, Brogan, a nursing student at Boise State University, also volunteered as a camp counselor. 

“It was very rewarding to hear the kids talk about what a good time they had,” Brogan said. “They don’t always have the option of attending summer camp. Knowing that we were able to help them have that camp experience was very rewarding for me.”

About The Author

Jamie Hudson is an intern in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.