Transplant Adventure Camp for Kids
Dear fellow SATSA “family”
I have been asked to write a brief report on Robbie’s week at TACKERS in Switzerland in January this year. TACKERS (Transplant Adventure Camp for Kids) is an annual event, started in 2002. which brings together children who have had transplants , to participate in a camp where they have the opportunity to meet peers who have shared the same experience. It is quite a challenge to know what to include as there were so many highlights, but it is even more difficult to try put into words what an experience like TACKERS meant to both Robbie, as well as to us (Carl, myself and younger brother and biggest supporter, Jordan, were fortunate to join). It is also a challenge to sit in this African summer and attempt to describe the breath taking setting of the Swiss Alps.
The view from the aeroplane window was a mere glimpse of the beauty that was to come. Landing in Zurich, we were treated to snowcapped mountain tops and the excitement mounted. We spent two days as a family in Lucerne and Jordan was beyond thrilled to see and touch snow for the first time as a few snowflakes drifted past the hotel window. Robbie had been fortunate enough to take part at the Nicholas Cup as part of the Winter World Transplant Games in 2012 so he KNEW what fun lay ahead. We drove to the mountain top and had a laughter filled day, all attempting to master the skill of sledging. The following day we drove South, closer to the French border and as we neared our destination of Anzere, we could barely contain our excitement. The entire village, perched on the slopes, looked like it had been covered in a blanket of thick icing. Our first stop was to meet Liz Schick, the incredible woman that founded TACKERS.
Liz is a liver recipient herself and such an inspiring woman. Many of you may have met her at previous Games where she serves on the WTG Committee. She started TACKERS because she believes in giving back- forever grateful to the donor that saved her life and we are forever indebted to her dream, vision and tireless efforts to host this annual event for children around the globe who have undergone lifesaving transplants. In her own words, “ The camps provide an environment outside of the hospital to educate the children to comply with their post-transplant medication programme, promote good health and a fulfilling life and most importantly have fun! Camp rebuilds their confidence and shows them and their parents that they can live life independently, like others. It is also a unique way to educate and promote the positive results of organ donation and transplantation to transplant recipients, healthcare professionals and the general public. Our camps also show donor families the result of their “gift of life”. She knows that all of these children have unique stories. All have battled life threatening illnesses and have spent much time in what should be a very unnatural place for a child, undergoing experiences that their peers at home cannot really understand. Many have never seen snow, many have never had the opportunity to experience skiing and camp life and many have lacked the ability or confidence to be away from their families. But they have one thing in common- they are all transplant survivors! They are a crazy bunch of fun-loving 9-15 year olds that know how to live each day to the full! They know how to master their skills on the piste, they know how to karaoke, they know how to share stories and jokes despite the very real language barrier and they sure know how to be ambassadors both for their countries as well as for organ donation.
“Chamossaire”, their home for the week, was expertly run by Viamonde, the ski school camp company, who host children groups throughout the year. The medical needs were taken care of by a team of international medical staff and volunteers, many of whom return year after year to TACKERS. Councillors (some even previous TACKERS campers themselves!) all had the needs of every single child at heart and the atmosphere the whole week was happiness, fun, safety and warmth- both on the piste and off.
A typical day started off after a hearty meal and medicine with the ski lift up to the snow playground. The ski conditions were excellent with fresh snow falling every day. The cold temperatures were quite a challenge for us, the only Southern Hemisphere’ers. Here the children spent the morning skiing or snowboarding, at various levels of skill, with their very capable instructors, advancing their skills and confidence as the week progressed. Lunch was spent sharing soup, ski stories and laughter in a warm room “up at the top”. Afternoons were either spent having more fun in the snow, or returning to the “the Cham” for various organised events (including talks on transplantation, arts and crafts, a visit from a nearby circus school to teach some tricks, rehearsing for “shows” in the evenings, or an outing to the local spa pool- picture an outdoor heated pool!) There are also table tennis table/foos ball / general “hanging out” space that every teenager enjoys. The evening programmes included a disco night, a show night, movie night and dress up theme party night.
“Friends of TACKERS” include any family that may also have been in the village, past campers, councillors, support medical volunteers and some sponsors that assist with the costs of the week. For the Friends, there is also a programme, some including the presence of the TACKERS children, and culminating in the Gala evening. Before the meal and fund raising auction (for future TACKERS camps), the kids put on a show. This included songs, skits, whatever they chose- most either depicting something about their country’s heritage (there were about 20 countries represented) or personal accounts of their transplant journeys. It was heartwarming to witness the enthusiasm, the encouraging of one another, the confidence and the friendships. It is truly a privilege to witness such zest for life and wisdom from these young people. And there is always the acknowledgement of gratitude to their donors.
The week ended with a fun ski “time trial” ending right in the village square. There, the various attendees’ countries’ flags are presented and the banner for TACKERS 2015 (which the campers had made) was unveiled. Liz then introduced each child and the week officially ended with an emotional ceremony where doves were released and donors were honoured.
The week was beautiful and memorable and special- even more than we knew it would be. Robbie has made friendships that I know will last forever- a month later and there are still regular WhattsApps in various forms of English travelling through cyberspace.
I would highly recommend the experience and welcome any queries. I know the week has enriched Robbie and all of us on many different levels. A huge thanks and blessings to all who contribute in whichever way to making this week possible for these inspirational youngsters- who experience all the challenges of being transplant survivors, as well as all the added challenges that young people face in the crucial teenage years.
More info on www.tackers.org