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Keywords:

  • children and adolescents;
  • congenital heart disease;
  • phenomenology;
  • therapeutic camping

Abstract

Background

Children living with complex heart defects (CHD) are likely to have ongoing social, emotional, physical, and health concerns, and are in need of additional psychosocial support. Summer camps can provide therapeutic benefits. Little research exists regarding the value of shorter camping experiences from the perspectives of children with CHD. The aim of our study was to explore what children and adolescents with CHD considered meaningful when attending a therapeutic camping weekend in the company of peers with similar medical diagnoses.

Methods

Engaging a phenomenological approach we used participant generated photography and reflective semi-structured interviews to explore participants' lived experience and value derived from their weekend camping experiences. The study was completed with thirteen participants ranging in age from 9 to 16 years. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analysed using Van Manen's guidelines.

Results

Three themes reflecting the camp experiences were generated from the data. Meaningful experiences spanned three outcomes which had some overlapping influences: (i) Developing relationships and feeling accepted by peers and counsellors at camp; (ii) Enjoying and learning during the weekend; and (iii) Experiencing the natural and human-built therapeutic environmental features of camp. The camping programme features, inputs, and processes as identified by the participants in contributing to these outcomes are described.

Conclusion

This qualitative study showed that children living with complex CHD valued the opportunity for participating in weekend camping experiences in the company of peers with similar heart defects. Findings contribute to a better understanding of what programme features and processes were considered meaningful. Given the scarcity of resources to devote to such social support activities, the findings may help professionals to plan effective interventions to maximize benefits during a shorter camping experience.