Camp Odayin Review: Summer Camp for Children with Heart Disease

With summer fast approaching, we started to take a peek at the plans for the summer. College visits? Check. Swim team? Check. Driver’s Ed? Check. Hockey Camp? Check. Band Camp? Check. Just when I thought I was done with our list, Owen yells “DON’T FORGET ABOUT HEART CAMP!!!!”. Needless to say – he is excited to attend Camp Odayin for a third summer.

Three years ago we found out that Camp Odayin was going to have a residential summer camp in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. This was great news because while I had heard about Camp Odayin, I also knew they usually hosted their camp in Minnesota. It is nervewracking enough to think of sending your single-digit age son with a heart defect to camp, it is even worse when the distance is over eight hours away. That all changed when the Wisconsin location was started.

I still was nervous about signing him up. On the VERY last day for sign up back in 2017, I asked him if he wanted to go, explaining he would sleep there and wouldn’t come home for four sleeps, five days. He thought about it for about six seconds, said yes and started the countdown till he left for camp that night.

Camp Odayin History

The camp is run by Sara Meslow, Executive Director and Founder, who started the camp 2002 after learning of a similar camp in California. She has her own heart history experience, and her passion for the organization and focus on the kids to allow them to focus on being a kid shows each time I have spoken with her in person or with an email I have sent.

Heart kids from around the country can attend one of the week-long Minnesota camps run over the first three weeks in July, as well as the recent addition in 2017 of the Wisconsin camp during the last week of July. Throughout the year they also host a Winter Camp in February as well Family Camp in the fall and a Mom’s Retreat (I still am trying to attend!) in early June.

During camp, nurses and physicians are looking after the heart kids each day. They help with the medications, activities and general well-being of the kids. The Camp Odayin motto sums it up best:

Kids Play.
Worries Rest.
Fun Happens.
Camp Odayin provides fun, safe and supportive camp experiences and community building opportunities for young people with heart disease and their families. 

– Camp Odayin website

Camp Highlights

Owen’s favorite part of camp is meeting new people and hanging out with friends. My favorite part of camp? He isn’t allowed electronics and spends the entire week screen free.

Since it is electronic free, we have no contact with him during the week. We are able to send him “camp notes” each night which the staff prints off and he reads our messages from home. Camp Odayin also posts photos online each night, and I spend my time looking through them trying to catch a glimpse of fun he is having.

From the Camp Odayin website, here is a “sample day” of their activities:

  • 8:00 AM Flag raising
  • 8:15 AM Breakfast
  • 8:45 AM Cabin clean up
  • 9:15 AM Three or four activity rotations (archery, horseback riding, arts & crafts, nature, boat rides, geocaching, and more) through out the morning.
  • Noon Lunch
  • 1:00 PM Rest hour
  • 2:30 PM Waterfront Time (Swimming, canoeing, waterskiing, tubing, snorkeling, paddleboats, fishing)
  • 4:30 PM Cabin time/ Free time/ Shower hour
  • 5:30 PM Dinner
  • 6:00 PM All camp games/activities
  • 6:30 PM Evening activities (such as campfire, carnival, disco BINGO, Hawaiian Luau, Country Ho Down, talent show)
  • 9:00 PM Snack and Cabin closing
  • 9:30/10:00 PM Lights out

For transportation to and from camp, we have two options. We can drive him ourselves or we can have the bus drive him to camp. The first year we drove him ourselves both ways, and last year we selected the bus to get him to camp. He LOVED the experience of riding the bus from Evanston to camp. Parents do have to check the camper in and review medication list/provide medications. The nurses review health history and go over any last minute details. This year the departure spot for Illinois families is Rosemont (even easier for us!). Both last year and this year, we will pick him directly from camp as we have evening plans with the older boys!

Packing for camp is easy – they send a list a few weeks before camp. Usually requesting a plain t-shirt and some “fun” items that will be used during the week. Don’t forget the basics (tops, shorts, pajamas, toiletries), as well as a blanket/sleeping bag and pillow (don’t forget stuffed animal!). There is a lake to swim in, and the campers are tested on swimming ability the first day of camp, so don’t forget swimsuits, swim shoes, sunblock and goggles!

Camp 2019 – Cost & Deadline

The deadline for 2019 registration for the Wisconsin Camp is June 1st. Go directly to the website by clicking here for more info if interested! Did I mention the cost of camp? $25 for each camper.

Shocked? So was I. Knowing what others pay for camps during the summer I was certain there was a mistake. A typo. Some other catch I hadn’t read yet. But after re-reading everything on the website a few times I had it right the first time.

This camp is run on donations and the heart of a great volunteer group & Board of Directors who “provides the direction and oversight needed to ensure the continued growth and success of the camp and its mission, while maintaining the fiduciary and governance oversight to protect the interest of the camp’s donors”. There are also many nurses and physicians that give up a week of their time to help keep costs down and thankfully keep a watchful eye on the campers. During the year there are various fundraising opportunities that helps fund the Camp Odayin programs.

The most important part of the continued success of Camp Odayin is to spread the word. Since congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect – chances are you know someone who has been affected. The benefit of being around a group of kids who have been through some of the same things you have has been priceless for Owen. Help spread the word so others have this same chance.

33 thoughts on “Camp Odayin Review: Summer Camp for Children with Heart Disease

  • May 29, 2019 at 21:08
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    🤣 “He thought about it for about six seconds…” I laughed out loud at this because I know good and well I was the same way with my mom! I’m grateful that organizations like this still exist to encourage kids to just be kids. Sometimes it’s hard to strip ourselves away from technology for an extended amount of time.

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  • May 30, 2019 at 08:36
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    This looks sooo fun! I think every kid should get the real camp experience in their life.

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  • May 30, 2019 at 08:52
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    This camp sounds terrific for kids. I never grew up going to camps and I can see how they are great for kids.

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  • May 30, 2019 at 09:14
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    My husbands family is from Wisconsin and I’d love to go!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 10:44
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    What a great program and camp! I am telling everyone! Thank you for sharing.

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  • May 30, 2019 at 11:44
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    This sounds like a magnificent camp! I will most certainly spread the wood. How awesome.

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  • May 30, 2019 at 12:03
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    Looks like a great camp if you have children!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 12:15
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    Love that these children have such a wonderful place to share, experience, & learn!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 12:52
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    I Love this! I’m so glad there are camps like this made affordable for these kids!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 13:02
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    Those activities available look FANTASTIC!!! Horseback riding, archery, fun stuff

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  • May 30, 2019 at 14:31
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    Oh wow what an incredible experience! It is so vital for anyone dealing with anything the world looks at as unusual or different to have those places where no one looks at it like that. I often wished we could would have taken my paralyzed mom to special family getaways for people with the same situations . What an amazing blessing that it was so dirt cheap! That’s how it should be as families with medical expenses just don’t have tHe luxury of extra $ lying around. Have a beautiful day!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 14:52
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    How fun! So much to do, and it looks like the kids have a blast!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 17:04
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    Wow. This is amazing, the whole idea: the digital free space, the pictures from the camp every night that parents can see, the care, the fun, the doctors who volunteer their time, the $25… Every single thing! Amazing. I hope your son is doing great!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 17:35
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    This is great, I’m so glad he has a camp to go to and meet other kids who have had similar experiences. Best of luck at camp!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 21:11
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    Definitely can’t beat that price with all that is included!! Best of luck to you and your little guy!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 21:38
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    What a special and important place where heart kids can let their worries rest, have fun, make friends with similar medical histories, and just let go. Thanks for sharing about this!

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  • May 30, 2019 at 21:45
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    This looks awesome. Heart issues aren’t something that people can see so they don’t understand that it’s limiting. My nepphew would have loved this and had had a pacemaker since he was 10.

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  • May 30, 2019 at 23:36
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    Camping is definitely an important rite of passage. Great post!

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  • May 31, 2019 at 00:09
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    I can’t imagine anything better for a kid with any (limiting?) condition to share days of fun with others who ‘get it!’ This has happened several times for my kids from foster care. The other kids ‘get it!’ Thanks for this.

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  • May 31, 2019 at 08:07
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    This sounds so wonderful! For only $25 too! I’m sure this will have a special place in his memories for many years to come! <3

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  • May 31, 2019 at 09:00
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    Some of my best summer memories were made at camp as a kid! Thank you for sharing!

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  • May 31, 2019 at 10:21
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    This is such an amazing experience. I have not heard of this one before, but wish that we had something much closer to us in California with similar focus.

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  • May 31, 2019 at 12:55
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    Places like this make me so happy. When I was younger I worked as a camp counselor for specialty camps. It is beautiful to see the impact they have!

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  • May 31, 2019 at 13:40
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    I am so glad hat this camp and others like it exist. I am also glad that it is offered at an affordable rate! I am glad that you gave your son the opportunity to attend. I am sure it has done a world of good for you, your family and him.

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  • May 31, 2019 at 17:28
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    I love that they have a place where “heart” kids can just be kids! What an amazing time! And the cost…you can’t even beat that!

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  • June 1, 2019 at 00:40
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    I send my kids to summer camps for the same reason – no electronics. If I let them, they would spend all hours playing video games. It’s funny that nowadays we have to force them to play outside with friends! Thank goodness for camps!

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  • June 1, 2019 at 09:11
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    What a great experience!! I know it can be hard to let the littles go sooo far away, but it sounds like his experience was amazing!!

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  • June 1, 2019 at 12:18
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    What an incredible camp! To be subsidized by donations so that the cost is only $25?! And screen free, but you still get updates?! Just amazing. I’m so glad that folks who have enough concerns and stresses on their plate with heart issues have this fantastic place to just be at ease. Their motto is so perfect.

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  • June 1, 2019 at 17:07
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    What a beautiful experience for the kids and parents alike! Being secure in the knowledge that your son is having a blast while being looked after in a caring and safe environment is priceless. I especially LOVE the fact that it’s screen free and you can still share daily messages, I know Owen must look forward to those messages, and the photos are just so dear! Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful and caring camp 🤗

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  • June 2, 2019 at 06:43
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    What a wonderful camp! I love they did not allow electronics. The kids need a break from their electronics and enjoy what we did growing up. We survived 🙂

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