By Deron Hamel
Isabella De Sousa recently returned from attending Summerfest Camp, and the 15-year-old says she has noticed a change in herself since she had her first experience two years ago at the summer camp designed for children and youths living with epilepsy.
“I feel like I am a lot more comfortable being able to talk about my epilepsy, not just with people who have experiences (with epilepsy), but with anybody,” Isabella says.
“I (have become) more open with it lately.”
Having been to Summerfest Camp for three summers, Isabella says she has enjoyed the experience more each time. She says her favourite part about being at Summerfest Camp is that it allows her to be herself.
“I really enjoy, not just making new friends, but also having people that I can relate to and everything we’re going through – I can talk to them,” she says.
Sabrina De Sousa, Isabella’s mother, says she has also noticed her daughter’s self-confidence increase since she began attending Summerfest Camp. She recalls how Isabella was apprehensive about spending a week at the camp her first time.
But when Isabella arrived, she found the camp councillors put her concerns to rest. After camp was over, she told Sabrina she wanted to go back next time for two weeks.
“She told me she didn’t feel any different; she knew there were other children there with epilepsy but you couldn’t tell,” Sabrina says.
“The second year she went for two weeks, and she came back even happier because she had (made friends with) someone else there who had epilepsy and they were able to talk and compare stories.”
Having epilepsy can take a lot out of a teenager, Sabrina says. A young person with epilepsy may spend lots of time in a doctor’s office or having MRIs and EEGs, and the experience can take some of the “sparkle” from their eyes, she adds.
“They can lose a little bit of that sparkle, but every year (Isabella is at Summerfest) I see more and more of that sparkle coming back,” Sabrina says.
Isabella has two brothers who do not have epilepsy that have joined her at Summerfest, and Sabrina says the experience has been enriching for her sons.
“It has also been very good for my two boys because one of the first things they said to me after coming home was, ‘Mum, there are people there who have epilepsy and people there who do not have epilepsy, and you can’t tell who has what.’ That was eye-opening for my two boys,” Sabrina says.
“They come back as different children; they really do. They come back happier.”
Held near Orillia at Camp Couchiching every summer, Summerfest Camp enables children aged six to 15 who are living with seizure disorders to attend camp with other children. The camp has the resources to meet the needs of children living with epilepsy and provides a setting where they can enjoy a carefree camping experience.
Summerfest Camp was founded in 1994 by Anita Allen, a neurology clinic nurse at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).