A Muskoka-area camp is making sure that children who are transplant recipients or are living with organ failure get a true overnight summer camp experience.
Isabella Silvestri told CTV News Toronto that she has been attending Camp Kivita since she was seven years old.
“We do paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, we tie-dye, we do arts and crafts, we do singalong lunches and we just, like, go around to tables and introduce ourselves,” said Isabella Silvestri, who is now 14 years old.
Isabella Silvestri had a liver and bowel transplant when she was just one-and-a-half and her mother said she was hesitant to send her away for the summer.
But she soon learned that many of the medical staff who volunteered at the camp had worked with her daughter before.
“It’s a place where she can forget that she has a medical condition,” said Daniela Silvestri. “ She goes there and the kids take all their medications at the same time. They share their stories with all their scars”
Isabella Silvestri said that she shares scar stories with her fellow campers, but the experience is much more than that.
“Just with me having a transplant, being able to go to a place like a camp with people that share the same interests and they share the same hobbies and everything. And they share the transplants, all the same experiences,” she said. “And it all encourages me and other people to not be ashamed of anything.”
Toronto resident Ricky Jacobs knows about the tremendous need for organ donors through his dad, who is searching for a kidney donor. When Jacobs heard about Camp Kivita, he started an annual swim called #ORGANDONORSWIM to raise money to send children to the camp.
Six experienced swimmers, including two who are organ recipients themselves, take turns as they cross Lake Muskoka.
“We relay swim 30 kilometres from Gravenhurst to Port Carling, and the idea behind the relay is that it’s meant to be symbolic not just of the donor and recipient, but also all the friends and family that allow that to happen,” said Jacobs.
In the past three years, #ORGANDONORSWIM raised $65,000 to send some 40 children to Camp Kivita.
This year they are hoping to raise awareness about presumed consent, a model for organ donation that’s used in some jurisdictions—a policy that assumes residents want to be organ donors unless they opt out of the program.
“There’s been lots of movement around trying to increase donations, but ultimately some things need to happen through other means. So we feel that “opt out” will at least remove the wait times that are so critical,” said Jacobs.
The Silvestri family is hoping to cheer on the #ORGANDONORSWIM participants on July 27 when they set out from the Gravenhurst Wharf. But what Isabella is looking forward to most is going to Camp Kivita for a week in August.