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From heart transplants to zip lines with Eagle County’s Roundup River Ranch

Anne Milmoe
Special to the Daily

DOTSERO, Colorado – Two years ago, Jennifer Ortiz came down with a cold that she just couldn’t shake. After a month of being sick, she went in for a check-up and doctors said she had an enlarged heart and needed an immediate heart transplant.

That was in May 2007. Since then, Jennifer, an incoming freshman at Battle Mountain High School, and her mother, Susie, have spent many hours each week traveling to The Children’s Hospital in Denver for additional treatments, check-ups and medication. After months of X-rays, biopsies and doses of steroids and other medications, Jennifer was ready for a break and wanted something other then her hospital visits to look forward to.

This summer, Jennifer spent a week at Victory Junction, a camp in North Carolina for children with life-threatening illnesses. Jennifer swam, fished, rode horses and went on a zip line, just like any camper at a traditional summer camp. It was also an opportunity for her to meet children with organ transplants or other illnesses, including cancer, sickle cell anemia and bleeding disorders

“I had the time of my life at camp,” Jennifer said. “It was the best. Everyone was so supportive and talked about their illnesses like it wasn’t a big deal at all.”

Jennifer was one of 23 children from the region who went to camp this summer through Roundup River Ranch’s “On the Road” program. Roundup River Ranch, a new camp being developed in Eagle County, is for children with life-threatening illnesses and is a provisional member of the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, the world’s largest family of camps for children with serious illnesses.

For the last three summers, Roundup River Ranch has sponsored and assisted campers and volunteer counselors to attend other Hole in the Wall Camps, like Victory Junction, around the country.

At Hole in the Wall Camps, campers get to participate in activities like swimming, fishing, camping and arts and crafts. But there is no need for a child to explain why a limb is missing or a head is bald or why there is a tube sticking out of a chest. Children with hemophilia and bone cancer climb to the top of a tower alongside those suffering from leukemia and HIV. No worries if you have to take a nap in the afternoon or swallow half a dozen pills three times a day – most of the other kids also have to.

The opportunity to bring children to other Hole in the Wall Camps has been an important component of Roundup River Ranch’s program development. The “On the Road” program introduces campers and their families to the top-notch programs, facilities and medical care that Roundup River Ranch will soon provide. It also enables the camp staff, board and other local volunteers to see first-hand how other camps operate.

Michele Moskowitz, a guidance counselor at Edwards Elementary School, traveled with six campers to The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, in Connecticut, and volunteered as a cabin counselor for a session.

“When I told some of my friends I was volunteering at camp, they said you better prepare yourself because it might be really sad,” Moskowitz said. “My experience was the complete opposite. The camp is focused on the living and being joyful in each and every moment. The kids were encouraged and allowed to take risks, go swimming, play football, sing on stage and just be silly without anyone pointing out differences or feeling sorry for them.”

Beginning in 2011, Roundup River Ranch will serve children ages 7 to 17 suffering from life-threatening illnesses at its camp facility on Colorado River Road in Dotsero. All programs, including “On the Road,” are free of charge are free to campers and their families.

For more information visit http://www.roundupriverranch.org.

Anne Milmoe is program director for the Roundup River Ranch.


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