Campbell Medicine faculty and students participate in an empowering camp for grieving children

NEWPORT, North Carolina – Campbell medical school faculty and students volunteered at the 15th annual Wings Camp hosted by 3HC Home Health and Hospice provider for Eastern North Carolina.  The camp is for children 8 to 16 years of age who have had a significant person in their life pass away.  The activities during the camp weekend help the children learn they are not alone in their grief and their feelings are normal.  They are also taught how to deal with grief and face anxiety.  They receive professional support from trained social workers, but most importantly they receive support from other children experiencing the same feelings.

Dr. Andrea Mann, Chair of Pediatrics, and Dr. Robin King-Thiele, Regional Assistant Dean and Chair of Internal Medicine, volunteered along with Ms. Mattie Bendall, Executive Director of Student Affairs, and three second year medical students.

“Dr. Robin King-Thiele and Dr. Andrea Mann joined us to address the campers’ medical questions,” said Cierra Jordan, 3HC Hospice social worker and camp director.  “Some questions that were asked were, “What is a heart attack?”, “How do you prevent diabetes?”, “How does dementia form?”, and “What is cancer and how is it formed in the body?”

The Wings Camp weekend was packed with traditional fun camp activities, yet all of the activities were oriented around helping the participants grieve and the volunteers learn how to support the grieving process.  On the first night, the CUSOM student volunteers participated in a karaoke dance party and games with the campers.

“My undergraduate years were spent heavily involved in another children’s camp, and when I heard about the Wings! program, I jumped all over the opportunity to work with kids at a camp again!” said Micha Keeno, second year medical student.

The volunteers were there to have fun with the campers and for professional experience in assisting grieving patients.

“Working with these kids was an extraordinary experience,” shared Micha. “I got to hear about their losses and learn about its effect on them…this experience has reminded me to always try to understand my patients.”

“Kids can be hard to understand sometimes, especially when they are being difficult… Adults can sometimes become too busy or too annoyed to listen though,” continued Micha.   “Patients can be hard to understand sometimes as well, and I think it can be easy for doctors to become too busy to try to see from the perspective of a difficult patient. I hope that doesn’t happen to me. I hope I never find myself trying to avoid that one patient who is annoying or weird or upset, because in my experience with kids, I have learned that those who are the most difficult are sometimes the ones that need the most attention.”

The volunteers were impacted on a personal level as well.

“I decided to volunteer after hearing about the experience from CUSOM volunteers the prior year, shared Ms. Bendall.  “Having lost my mom only a year or so ago, I wanted to go to help children who have had a significant person pass away in their life.  I was worried that the weekend would be a sad weekend, but it was great fun mixed in with the ability express your grief should you want to and not be embarrassed about it.  The strength of these children impacted me on a personal level, my heart grew threefold for sure, and I can certainly say this is something I will continue to be involved in for years to come.”

The CUSOM volunteers witnessed progress in the campers grieving process through just being present and interacting in a setting where it was okay to grieve.

“I have been a physician with hospice since 2005, and I have heard positive feedback from 3-Wings campers every year,” shared Dr. King-Thiele.  ”The program is well-balanced…campers learn it is ok to have fun while grieving and moving  forward is not forgetting.”

The CUSOM team admires the participants for being a part of the camp and taking a healthy step in the grieving process.

And Dr. King-Thiele was excited to have CUSOM participate again this year.

“I am so proud of our students!  They jumped in as mentors and positive role models for the participants by simply having fun – kayaking, swimming, and playing kickball.  Community service is an important part of the medical school’s mission.  We are thrilled that the 3 Wings Camp become a CUSOM tradition.

By:  Sarah H. Bowman, JD