Story courtesy Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan

A ground-breaking week-long pediatric heart camp in Saskatchewan just may be a vital first step in developing a Canada-wide chronic disease management program.

CHAMPS Healthy Heart Camp, focusing on the unique needs of the approximately 2,000 children in Saskatchewan living with congenital heart defects (CHD), launched last year as a pilot project at the University of Saskatchewan.

CHAMPS Healthy Heart Camp launched last year as a pilot project at the University of Saskatchewan.

CHAMPS Healthy Heart Camp launched last year as a pilot project at the University of Saskatchewan.

The week-long summer day camp, funded by the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan, returned this summer with 20 children from communities across Saskatchewan, including Regina, Saskatoon, North Battleford, Swift Current, and Weyburn.

With support from the Colleges of Kinesiology and Medicine, the camp investigates body composition, cardiovascular, and the mental health of children with congenital heart defects.

“The kids have fun, but it’s research based,” explains lead researcher Dr. Marta Erlandson. “CHAMPS is not just about intervention and better health, but giving these kids the opportunities to build friendships and gain confidence. Many of the participants have never had a chance to meet another child with a congenital heart defect. It’s important for them to have a peer group to develop relationships.”

Targeted to children ages seven to 15, CHAMPS includes physical activity, nutrition sessions, work with a clinical child psychologist, and swimming, which is a highlight for many of the young participants.

“The vast majority of kids in the program have had open heart surgery and many of them have been self-conscious about their scars and were nervous,” says Erlandson, who is an associate professor in the College of Kinesiology. “When they saw that everyone else had scars too, it was really interesting for them to compare and talk about their experiences. I think it made them aware that they are not alone.”

While there are similar style camps across the country for other medical conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, and cancer, this is the first targeted to children with congenital heart defects.

“Mike* now has friends who are just like him, who have experienced similar challenges and fears,” says one parent. “He sees that it is possible to continue to be active as he gets older, after watching older peers, and he has benefited from the knowledge of the professionals who gave him valuable information, empowering him to make the best decisions for his condition.”

rr-2016-10-12-chfs-camp1567To date, CHAMPS organizers have collected data from approximately 30 children. The preliminary findings are in stark contrast to previous literature, finding no difference in physical activity levels or body fat amongst children with congenital heart defects compared to their healthy peers. Children with CHD, however, require a longer time for heart rate recovery after exercise. In spite of similar levels of activity, children with CHD also have lower bone mineral content, which may put them at increased risk of fractures.  These children are also at greater risk for the development of mental health disorders like anxiety.

“We’re finding with the research that there was a real lack of general information about children with these conditions,” says Erlandson. “We’re really trying to understand what the limitations are so that we can determine what kind of things we need to have pediatric cardiologists encourage children and parents to do.”

Erlandson hopes to be able to create a sustainable program for children with congenital heart defects and continue to measure their health outcomes.

“We’re so proud to support the work of Saskatchewan researchers and projects like CHAMPS, “says Brynn Boback-Lane, President and CEO of the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan. “The discoveries being made through this ground-breaking program will help pilot new, innovative care for an important national pediatric health issue.”

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the participant.

For more information on how to donate to the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan, visit the Foundation’s website at childrenshospitalsask.ca.

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