Flying Horse Farms: A SeriousFun Camp for Kids with Serious Illness – PediaCast 550

Show Notes


  • Drs Bethany Uhl and Megan Schaefer visit the studio as we explore Flying Horse Farms: A SeriousFun Camp for Kids with Serious Illness. Learn what it takes to offer a summer camp for children with chronic and complex conditions… and discover how your family can support their work. We hope you can join us!


  • Flying Horse Farms
  • SeriousFun Network
  • Summer Camp




Announcer 1: This is PediaCast.


Announcer 2: Welcome to PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. And now, direct from the campus of Nationwide Children's, here is your host, Dr. Mike.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Hello everyone, and welcome once again to PediaCast. It is a pediatric podcast for moms and dads. This is Dr. Mike coming to you from the campus of Nationwide Children's Hospital. We're in Columbus, Ohio.

It's Episode 550, and we're calling this one "Flying Horse Farm: A SeriousFun Camp for Kids with Serious Illness". I want to welcome all of you to the program.

So, our topic today is really a cool one. And it may benefit your family directly or it may present a unique opportunity for you to help others. And that topic is Flying Horse Farms, which is, as I mentioned, a SeriousFun camp. We'll talk more about what that means. But it's really a camp for kids with serious illness, with special needs, chronic and complex disease.


And you may not have given this a lot of thought. And yet, this is a very important point to ponder as we think about kids with complex health conditions, things like heart disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis, cancer, sickle cell disease, organ transplant, spinal cord injuries, and many others.

And although these kids have serious conditions, it makes sense that they should also have serious fun. And one way to accomplish that, often in a transformative way, is through participation in summer camp. But that can be difficult in light of the many barriers, physical ones, mental ones, financial ones, that these families face.


And that is really where Flying Horse Farms comes in, offering a comprehensive, away-from-home summer camp experience for kids with chronic and complex conditions. And they do it for free. So, the kids who participate in camp, their families do not incur any cost for their kids to have this experience.

Now, of course, a ton of effort goes into this project. Flying Horse Farms has first-class facilities, a wonderful location, and the full support of medical experts right on site.

Now, this is a summer camp in Ohio. What if you and your family are not in Ohio? Well, first, a lot of folks do travel to the Central Ohio area to participate in Flying Horse Farms' camp activities from surrounding states. But it is also a member of the SeriousFun Network, which offers similar experiences at camps across the country.


Dr. Mike Patrick: And, of course, in the show notes for this episode, we'll have links not only to Flying Horse Farms, but also the SeriousFun Network. So perhaps you can find a camp that is close to your home.

Now, you may be asking, why are we talking about this in January? And I know in the southern regions of our country, it's warm and you could hold a camp. But here in Ohio, January is not a great time of the year to hold camp. And the reason for that is a pretty simple, you know, the weather.

But it's also important to talk about camp now because this is the time to start thinking about and planning a summer camp experience. So today, we're going to take a deep dive into Flying Horse Farms. We'll explore the many ways they remove barriers for children and families with serious illness, and how you and your family can get involved as a camper or a supporter of their work.

In our usual PediaCast fashion, we have a couple of terrific guests going to join us today. Dr. Bethany Uhl is the medical director of Flying Horse Farms. And Dr. Megan Schaefer is a pediatric psychologist with Nationwide Children's Hospital. She's also on the camp's medical advisory board.


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So, let's take a quick break. We'll get Dr. Bethany Uhl and Dr. Megan Schaefer settled into this studio. And then we will be back to talk about Flying Horse Farms. It's coming up, right after this.


Dr.  Mike Patrick: Dr. Bethany Uhl is medical director of Flying Horse Farms, an urgent care physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital, and an associate professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Megan Schaefer is a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Ohio State. She also serves on the medical advisory board for Flying Horse Farms.


That's what they're here to talk about, Flying Horse Farms, which is a SeriousFun camp aimed at supporting children with serious illnesses as they heal, grow, and thrive.

But first, let's offer a warm PediaCast welcome to our guests, Dr. Bethany Uhl and Dr. Megan Schaefer. Thank you both so much for stopping by today.

Dr. Bethany Uhl: Thanks, Dr. Mike. I'm really excited to be here and talk about camp

Dr. Megan Schaefer: Same, we are very excited to be here and talk about one of our favorite places.

Dr. Mike Patrick: So, let's get into it. And I think a great place to start is really an overview of Flying Horse Farms and its mission. What is this place, and why is it important, Bethany?

Dr. Bethany Uhl: Sure. So Flying Horse Farms is a medical specialty camp. And we provide summer camp experiences to campers with serious illnesses and their families free of charge.

And so, our mission is really to make it possible for children with serious illnesses to heal, grow, and thrive through medically and emotionally safe and equitable camp experiences.


So, our summer residential programs are offered for kids 8 to 15 who have been diagnosed with heart conditions, cancer, bleeding disorders, GI conditions, pulmonary conditions, arthritis, craniofacial diagnoses, spinal cord disorders, rare diseases, mental health conditions, and many others that I haven't even mentioned here. Really, we try to make it available for lots of kids with serious medical illnesses.

For a lot of our campers, our medical team and the care at camp are the only way that they're able to spend a night somewhere other than home or in the hospital. And so that opportunity to just leave their illness behind, just be a kid, it means so much to these campers and families.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And I think families who aren't impacted by chronic illness and complex medical issues, you just kind of take summer camp for granted. And a lot of folks participate in them, they're fantastic experiences, kids love them.


But if you're a parent of a child with sickle cell disease, for example, you may feel a little hesitant to let your child be away from you in a camp experience. And so, I think it's just such an important role that camps like this play. And I say camps like this because Flying Horse Farms is a part of the SeriousFun Network. Bethany, can you tell us a little bit more about what that is?

Dr. Bethany Uhl: Sure. So, the SeriousFun Camp Network was a network initially started by Paul Newman, the actor and philanthropist. And he had this dream in the 80s of creating a camp for kids with illnesses where they could leave their illness behind and just be a kid, have a little fun.

Started the initial camp in Connecticut, and it's now spread to a network of nine camps in the United States and 30 camps internationally and a lot more partner programs. But it's the model of a camp for kids with serious illnesses where they can have fun free of charge and just experience all the joys of summer camp while being supported medically and emotionally.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, yeah, so important. And of course, we'll put links to both Flying Horse Farms and SeriousFun camps in the show notes over at so you can get more information and explore the various locations because there may be one near you and you didn't even know.

So, Megan, I want to bring you into the conversation. What makes Flying Horse Farms different from other kid’s camps? Now, we've already said there's going to be kids there with complex medical issues and chronic diseases. But what sort of facilities and programs need to be in place in order to really support kids who are impacted by complex and chronic disease?

Dr. Megan Schaefer: So as Dr. Bethany was saying, I think one of the biggest goals of Flying Horse Farms camp and all of the other camps in the SeriousFun Network is that we want to ensure that all of the kids are medically, physically and emotionally feeling safe and supported at camp. And so, to do that, as you highlighted, there's lots of things that they have to put in place to make sure that happens.


So, from a medical lens, they have a state-of-the-art medical facility and 24/7 onsite care for all of the kids, which is wonderful, because as we were talking about, these kids have a lot of medical needs, whether that's related to medications or any other things that they need to do to manage their illness. So having people on site to do that while they're also able to have fun is really important and also to make sure parents feel comfortable while their child is at camp.

When we also think about being emotionally safe, Flying Horse Farms has done an excellent job making sure that they're providing trauma-informed support. So, if kids are feeling anxious, or they're having a difficult time being away from home, there are so many things that they have, including the Meadow, which is a place where kids can go.

And there's all different types of things that they can use to relax or practice coping strategies if they need a break. And so, one of the things I think that people experience if they go to camp is you realize that each kid, we look at each of them individually and to provide that holistic healing. We want to identify what are things that will be most important to them and then integrate that into their plans, that when they come to camp, they can be as successful as possible.


Dr. Mike Patrick: Really, there are so many benefits to participating in camp, both physically and mentally. And it's hard, especially if you've never been to camp before, it's sort of hard to explain how kids actually sort of come out of the experience a little different than they were when they began the experience. So just, Megan, if you could speak toward the health benefits that we see both physically and mentally in kids who have completed this experience.

Dr. Megan Schaefer: This is one of my favorite things to talk about when thinking about camp, because I think oftentimes people say, like, "Oh, what can a week do?" And it's incredible what a week can do at this camp for a lot of kids.

So, when we think about kids with chronic illness or mental illness, oftentimes they haven't met other kids or other adolescents with similar conditions. And so, they can feel very isolated or alone in their struggles. And camp is really the first time where they feel normal, where they don't feel like the outcast.

And also, these kids are often told more no's than yeses. And so, camp is really about a time of yeses. We want to give you the opportunity to do all of these things that they may never have dreamed that could be possible once they were diagnosed with their condition.


And so, specifically, when we think about benefits, a big one is like a sense of community and feeling like they belong. You'll see a lot of kids come in, they're very timid, they're shy. And then at the very end, they're the ones singing on stage, they're dancing like they have so much energy.

And so that's awesome, because you're seeing them really grow into themselves and feel like they can be who they are without having to kind of wear a mask because of all the struggles they may be facing related to their journey.

And then, related to activities, the goal of camp is to really help kids feel confident, whatever that looks like, in trying new things. And so, usually what we see by the end of the week is not only an improved self-image, but improved confidence, like that ability, like, "I can try hard things, I can try new things, and I have this group of amazing people who are supporting me behind me."

And then, when you think about them going back into the real world after camp, we hope that those types of things, like when they go back to school or making new friends, they feel a little bit of extra confidence to try that new thing and take that step forward.


And then, I think from a family side, as we were talking about, for a lot of these families, they haven't even thought about what it would be like to send their child to camp. And so, camp gives them a moment of respite, where they can take care of themselves, but also know that their child is in good hands.

And I always love when the parents come and pick up their children, because they can see it. They can see that their child's smile is bigger, they're more outgoing, or they're getting everyone's numbers because they want to have all of these friends. And so, I love that the parents, even in that moment of pickup, they can see all the changes that have happened over camp.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Absolutely. As you're describing, sort of pushing kids to do the hard thing and to try something new, when we're also talking about kids with complex and chronic illnesses, we sort of have to be careful with that at the same time, right?

Bethany, how are activities tailored at camp to make sure that kids are challenged, that they really feel like they're trying new things and they're growing but we're also doing it in a safe environment, considering that some of these kids may have had open heart surgery, have diabetes, severe asthma?


So how do we offer activities and encourage them to step out of their comfort zone but still keep it safe?

Dr. Bethany Uhl: Great question. We have so many amazing facilities at camp. So, we have a boathouse for fishing and boating. We have archery, we have arts and crafts, a spotlight studio with a music program.

We have a one-of-a kind high ropes challenge course with a zipline, low ropes, wood shop. We have a zero-degree entry pool with a warming room, it’s always temperature controlled, and so much more fun things that we have at camp.

But it's not just about having those fun activity areas. It's really making sure that we're ready for any camper and what they might need in those spaces. So, all of our cabins are ADA accessible, and our center path is paved to really improve that accessibility for all.


And then, every single activity area, the medical team, the psychosocial team, the program team, we all work together to make sure that they're adaptive and accessible for campers with a wide variety of medical needs, whether that's mobility devices, G-tubes, other medical equipment. Anything that they need for their medical care, we're able to incorporate that into our activities.

Dr. Bethany Uhl: So, we've sent campers with heart transplants down our zipline. We've had campers with oxygen needs climb our rock wall. We really go through, before camp, every single camper what their medical needs are and figure out how we can make those activity areas accessible for them. And in the rare case that we can't make an activity area accessible for a specific camper's needs, then the entire cabin will do a different activity and just wouldn't even be aware that that other activity was an option.

So, like Megan was saying earlier, we always want to lead with yes and just because we strive to make every activity accessible, we also embrace a challenge-by-choice approach at camp. So, we're going to make it possible for that camper to climb the rock wall, but it's still their choice if they want to. And they can choose what they participate in.


And we really want them to find that stretch zone because that's where the growth and learning happens. But in that review, we make sure that we have whatever equipment we might need, whatever accessibility adaptations to make all of those things possible.

And we also really want to make sure that we allow those campers full participation. And so, with our medical care, if a camper is, say, at archery and they need a medication, our amazing nursing team is going to take that medication to that camper so that they don't have to get pulled away from archery. They don't have to have the experience of feeling excluded like they might in their typical daily routines. And so, we're just going to kind of pop out of the woods, hand that medication off at archery, and they can keep on aiming for that bullseye.

Dr. Mike Patrick: That is really fantastic. You mentioned nursing staff. And I think it's important to recognize that the role of a cabin counselor is going to be a little bit more challenging in this environment.


And so, yes, we do have cabin counselors that are really trained in the activities and motivating kids and sort of being a child life expert in that role. But at the same time, we also have nursing staff actually in the cabins, is that correct?

Dr. Bethany Uhl: So, every cabin will have an assigned nurse, absolutely correct. And that nurse hangs out with that cabin a ton during the day. And all of our cabin counselors also get a lot of training in sort of what to watch for, what to be ready for. They learn about their campers before they come, but that nurse is really integrated into that cabin and available.

And then we have a large physician and nursing team ready for anything that comes up as well, but that nurse is very close. I would say every nurse sees every camper in their cabin at least five times a day, probably. And so, it's really easy for them to know what that camper needs and help them stay safe and having fun at camp.

Dr. Mike Patrick: The medical facility at Flying Horse Farms is just incredible. And I can say this from first-hand experience, because last summer, I spent a week at camp. And this coming summer, I'm going to spend another week at camp. And I'm very excited about that, by the way.


But tell us a little bit about the medical facilities that are on site and what sort of capabilities that you have there.

Dr. Bethany Uhl: It was so fun to have you there, Dr. Mike. And I can't wait to have you back. So, we, as Megan was saying earlier, we have an onsite medical facility called the WellNest. And it's located right in the middle of camp so that it's easily accessible from all activity areas. And it's staffed 24/7 by physicians, nurses, a psychosocial team from children's hospitals across Ohio and beyond.

And we're equipped to handle, really any routine or emergency care that our campers might need. So, every single camp session, we have three to five physicians, about 12 to 15 nurses, and three to six psychosocial team members who are really just at the ready for anything that our campers might need.

And we also try to match our staffing expertise to the camper population that we have at any time. So, for example, during Heart Week, our physician team is going to include cardiologists and intensive care pediatricians.


And then, as I mentioned, every single cabin is going to have a nurse that really hangs out with them, gets to know those campers really well, and follows them throughout the day to some of their activities. But our medical team really believes in our core value of, with trust comes relief and takes the trust that families place in us really seriously.

And so, every camper's application is reviewed to make sure we know exactly what a camper might need. And then, at camp check-in, the camper family also meets with their cabin nurse to really go through every medication, any care need, any feed schedule, really anything that they're going to need during their time at camp. Both so that that nurse is ready to care for that camper. And so, that family feels that trust and confidence in what we're going to do.

And then, of course, we also have our medical advisory council, which Dr. Megan is part of, with physicians, nurses, pharmacists, mental health professionals who really help advise on best practices for our campers as well.


Dr. Mike Patrick: And we've talked about the wonderful facilities and the great medical team. There are a lot of other folks who are involved in camp. There are folks who run the activities> There's the folks in the dining hall, the maintenance people, really a lot of folks who are going to be engaged with these kids.

So, Megan, how do you ensure that the camp as a whole is really accessible and inclusive for kids with special needs and chronic illnesses? Because it's not just the medical team, it's like the whole place has to really be in the right mindset to make an impact on these kids and families.

Dr. Megan Schaefer: Yeah, that is a great question. I also appreciate you highlighting, as you said, the medical illness is one thing, but there's so many other differences in details that shape each of our paths, right?

So, every camper comes with a different story. And as I mentioned earlier, one of the things that I love that Flying Horse Farms does is before each set of kids comes in the cabins and all of the teams meet together to talk about the kids that they'll be hosting. And within those conversations, that's really where we really delve into what are some differences about each child and what are individual characteristics of ways that we can make them be successful at Flying Horse Farms.


Dr. Mike Patrick: So, again, sometimes that may be more medical concerns, right? So, a child with sickle cell who really has never swam before and wants to swim for the first time, how can we make that happen? Or maybe somebody who's in a wheelchair, who's never been in a boat, right?

So, we think about those medical and physical things, but then from an emotional standpoint, we also learn, like, maybe the child, when we think about the dining hall, maybe they would get really easily overwhelmed with all of the noise and the dancing. So, what could we do in those moments of giving them a break? Maybe going to the Meadow for some quiet time or practicing some relaxation strategies.

But this camp is just so prepared for all of these kids that they come in, which I think allows all of these kids to have an amazing experience because we have all of these backup plans. If this becomes challenging, we'll do this. Or if the kid needs this, this is how we'll work together. And I think the camp does an incredible job doing that.


And then, there are some things that we might not even think about. So, when we're talking about dancing, one of the things that I've always admired about the camp is that some of the counselors who are leading it, they'll sit down and dance.

And a lot of that is because there's kids in wheelchairs. And that's something that a lot of us might not even think about. But it normalizes that you can still dance while sitting. So, it's even simple things that can be so powerful for a kid to feel normal and to feel like they're in a space where they're comfortable to be themselves.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And can you share a specific experience of a kid who really had a memorable experience?

Dr. Megan Schaefer: This was a really hard question for me because I feel like there are so many amazing memories that we all experience. So, I was trying to think, like, buckets of memories of things that we often see.

So, I have a couple of things that I always love when I volunteer at camp. So, one of them, as I was talking about before, I think we have a set of kids who come in feeling very isolated, alone, and they're very quiet.

And so, one of my favorite memories is when they do the stage night, and the kids that were so quiet, you see them, they're up there dancing or they're singing songs. And everyone is just like in an uproar, cheering and clapping.


And just the smile that radiates from those kids faces is truly incredible. And you can tell within that moment, their confidence has significantly skyrocketed. And so just thinking about where they take that confidence from here always inspires me and makes me feel very happy about the changes that they've experienced at camp.

The other one that I think we see a lot is when kids do things for the first time. And so, I can remember a specific memory where I mentioned this a little bit before, but a child with sickle cell swam for the first time.

And again, a lot of us might take that for granted, but these kids, because of difficulties with temperature regulation, they may not have had those experiences before, right? And so, this is really huge for them, something that they thought was never possible.

And so being able to be there for those moments, especially as a healthcare provider working in a hospital, I think we often see kids in some of their worst moments. We see kids when they're very sick. So, to see these kids be kids and be able to do those things that are meaningful to them is very powerful for healthcare providers, but I think everyone who is there supporting them.


And then, the other thing that I always love to see is we haven't highlighted this on too much, but Flying Horse Farms also has parts of their camp where older kids can give back. So, there's like the rangers where when they're aged out of camp, that they can go and serve in more in like a mentoring and leadership role, which is incredible.

And so, seeing kids who have had the experience growing up in camp and then coming back as a ranger and participating in ways to mentor other kids who are growing up with illness or just getting them acclimated to camp, that is amazing, because what you really see is how they can extend the skills that they've learned at camp and be able to offer that mentorship. And so, one of my favorite parts is when you go back to camp and you see some of these kids who are, they're not kids anymore, they're adolescents, right?

And they're talking about ways they can give back. It's really neat to see how they're able to do that. And the younger campers respond extremely well to that, which I think can be very powerful for those kids as well.


Dr. Mike Patrick: It even goes a step further than just being a ranger. I met several staff members who attended camp, special needs camps because they have their own special needs when they were kids. And now as adults, they are serving in that role. And I think that is just really wonderful and must be such a fantastic experience for them.

Dr. Bethany Uhl: Yeah, it was really incredible. Last summer, actually, about a fourth of our summer staff were previous campers. And so, just that opportunity to learn those skills, have those incredible camp experiences, and then come create those experiences for other campers was a lot of fun to see.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Yeah, definitely. Megan, these families are a little different in a good way than your typical family in terms of we all care about our kids, we care about their safety. We want to make sure that they're okay and growing and developing well. But when you have a child with a complex condition, special needs, chronic illnesses, when you have that, you are going to pay extra special attention to the safety factor and to make sure that your child is really being taken care of.


So how does Flying Horse Farms engage families in regard to the camping experience?

Dr. Megan Schaefer: So, during the summer residential camps, the camp does an incredible job making sure that they're answering families' questions or concerns that they may have about letting their child go away for the first time or even if it's the seventh time. I'm sure they still have concerns and things they want to make sure are taken care of.

And the camp also does a good job in terms of if parents want check-ins or they have things that they would like to talk about during camp. They do a great job connecting with the families to allow families to have that chance for respite. Because if they're at home worrying the entire week about their child, that is not going to give them the respite that they deserve.

And so, the camp has phenomenal communication that I think allows families to rest and relax and know that their child is safe and comfortable at camp.

And in addition, we talked about this a little bit. But the other way that Flying Horse Farms really engages families is there are opportunities for families to come to camp.


And so, families may at first be hesitant to send their child to the summer residential before they really get a good grasp of what camp looks like and what the feel is. And so those families might start for like a fall family camp or a spring family camp to get to know the facilities, the medical team, and how camp runs. And our families absolutely love it.

I think, again, a lot of times these families, when they think about taking a vacation, that seems really overwhelming. Like how will they balance all of the things? But knowing that Flying Horse Farms has all of these supports in place and allows all of these fun activities, it gives families the chance to make special memories together.

So, I think there's a lot of power in that. And then, if they feel more comfortable, they may be more likely to send their child independently for the summer residential camps.

And the other camp that we haven't talked about too much is there's also a week for sibling camp, which is another incredible thing that Flying Horse Farms offers. What we know in the chronic illness experience that often siblings, they're forgotten or they're isolated, and it's not intentional. But when there's so many medical needs, sometimes it can be really difficult to balance the needs of the well siblings.


And so, having a week where siblings can go and talk about what that experience is like to have a sibling who has a chronic illness or a mental illness can be really, really helpful for them. And also, they'll learn strategies from each other and to find a community in that way.

And so, Flying Horse Farms really does capture that family experience, a sibling experience, and then also the individual patient experience and making sure all of their needs are met.

Dr. Mike Patrick: As you're talking about that, I'm thinking for family camp, when you have the whole family together, you may have kids with different chronic illnesses and different special needs that are now engaged with one another. And I could also see the advantage in that. I mean, you definitely want to be around families who are dealing with the same things that you're dealing with. And you really get a lot of support in that way.

But sometimes, it's good to see the challenges that others face and sort of how they've overcome different challenges. Do you see that happening during family camp?


Dr. Megan Schaefer: Yeah, I think there's a lot of perspective that can be learned. As you said, benefits of having similar experiences and also benefits of learning more broadly. Because when we think about illnesses, everyone's on a different trajectory and step. And so, I think there's a lot of learning when parents get together.

And then, the shared experiences, they're all a parent of a child with some type of serious illness. And so, just learning what kind of coping strategies and how they navigate that can be really meaningful for families.

Dr. Mike Patrick: We've mentioned that Flying Horse Farms offers free programs for kids with special needs and chronic and complex disease. In order to offer a free experience, obviously, you're going to have to cut down on your costs. And I can tell you the one place where they've not cut down is the offerings and the facilities, which are just phenomenal.

So, I would imagine that the camp really does rely on volunteers in order to staff the place. So, Bethany, what are some of the volunteer opportunities that exist for folks who may want to get involved and go to camp as a staff person?


Dr. Bethany Uhl: I appreciate that question because you're absolutely right, that we really rely on volunteers to make camp happen. In 2023, we had over 1,000 volunteers that made our camp sessions happen for our campers and families.

And part of that, is that we really guarantee an opportunity for a transformational experience and that includes our volunteers. So, you'll hear kind of with Megan's experiences or your own Dr. Mike, we hear volunteers say all the time like, "It just changed my perspective and it was so great to just be there and see these kids having fun."

And it's really an opportunity for any volunteer to come, whether it's for a weekend family camp, a week-long summer session. We have volunteers that are college students to licensed medical professionals, roles for really a wide variety of volunteers and skill sets. There's help that we need in the kitchen, help with running activity areas, cabin counselors.

It's really an experience that you won't forget and lots of opportunities to help make those camp sessions happen.


And our volunteer applications are open now for summer. We're already working on planning for summer 2024 and would love to just continue to flood these volunteer applications with people excited to make camp happen.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And of course, again, we'll put a link to Flying Horse Farms in the show notes over And from the main page, you'll be able to find information about what opportunities are available for volunteering and how to go about applying to those.

Megan, we've talked about really challenging kids and helping them to do the hard thing. And there's sometimes unexpected challenges that might come up. How does camp staff really help kids cope with challenges that may surprise them? Or maybe it's something that they really feel like they can't overcome, even though they've tried their best. How do the staff kind of intersect with those kids?


Dr. Megan Schaefer: So Flying Horse Farms has an amazing psychosocial team. I'm very impressed with the way that they've been able to lead that. And honestly, in terms of SeriousFun Network, they are really leading a huge initiative in that way, which I think is really the answer to your question, Dr. Mike, is they have amazing people who are there to support whatever concerns are coming up.

So, as I've mentioned, when patients are coming for the first time, they get the psychosocial screen. And that really helps us get to know the child before they're coming to camp, because each year they may be coming with different challenges, right? Maybe since the last time we've seen them, there's been new medical challenges or there's been new family stressors.

And so, that just allows us the opportunity to learn like since the last time we've seen that patient, or if it's the first time we've met that camper, what are the things that we've learned about them? And in those conversations, we ask things that they may be nervous or worried about, goals that they want to set, what they're hopeful about. And that, again, helps us meet where they are but also know what are some things that could potentially come up in activities or maybe conversations that come up.


And one of the things that we haven't talked a lot about is something called cabin chats. And so that's an opportunity where I think a lot of campers are getting together. Some of it is all fun and games and talking about conversations.  And some of the conversations are a little bit more emotionally difficult, especially when you think about teenagers who are starting to talk about more complex things, right? Whether it's a fear of dying or how will they manage their illness moving forward when they go from adolescence to young adulthood, or maybe feeling socially isolated, all of those types of things.

And in that community, it's such a safe space for them to share what these experiences are like. And having psychosocial staff there, if a camper gets really overwhelmed or needs extra support or starts to have a significant worry, having some one-on-one time with somebody who's trained and could work through that worry with them, whether that's pulling them aside in the cabin or, again, taking them to the Meadow.

The Meadow also has amazing books, whether it's talking about things like grief or anxiety or depression and just being able to use that for education purposes, but also learning what are coping strategies. Because we know, again, when they leave camp, that there's lots of things that are still going to be challenges, and how can we equip them with skills?


So, one of the things that makes camp really special is it is all about having fun, but interwoven within that is therapeutic elements that we are hopeful that kids can then apply to life outside of camp.

One of my favorite sayings that they always say after camp is that you can leave camp, but camp never leaves you. And I think that, that is powerful and that the experiences and the memories and the strategies that they learn, the goal is that they then take that out into the real world and to be able to like times when they're feeling alone, they remember the community that they felt at camp. They remember the people that are behind them. They remember the people who had all of these challenges in ways that they persevered and that they can apply it to their own illness journey.

So, I think within almost every element of camp, there is a lesson or there's a strategy or there's something that kids learn that they're able to take with them wherever they go.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And I'm sure that that's part of families saying, my kid has changed when they come back because of those experiences and because of those challenges and because of the expert way in which the staff really engage with these kids.


Bethany, we have a camp that is for kids with special needs and complex medical conditions. It seems like this would be a good opportunity to really collaborate with hospitals and other healthcare organizations, maybe even be involved in research projects.

How does Flying Horse Farms really intersect with the medical community at large?

Dr. Bethany Uhl: We have some great partnerships with children's hospitals, really, across Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, and even broader than that. But we work closely with our hospital partners for both clinical volunteers and then also for support in helping spread word about camp.


We're really intentional about making sure that our campers don't feel studied while they're at camp. And so, we want it to truly just be for their experience and their fun.

But we do track, through camper surveys and the feedback that we receive from campers and families, the incredible growth that these campers experience, like Megan touched on, just the ways that camp really changes them, helps them feel more independent, have that positive self-identity that increased confidence. But again, it's really important that the focus while they're at camp is just for them to have fun and really have that community experience.

But we also have a great partnership with the Ohio State University, where a lot of students in their health sciences college, including medical students, nursing students, come to camp as part of their curriculum. So they get to experience the transforming fun of camp while earning course credit. And we get the incredible volunteers who also understand the medical impact of these camper diagnoses.

So, we have some awesome volunteer partnerships like that, that are really there to increase the experience for our campers.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And then I would imagine that there might, and maybe you're not allowed to talk about this, but there might be some future plans or upcoming developments for Flying Horse Farms. So that families who are listening, who have been to camp before, is there anything new or different on the horizon that you guys can tell us about?


Dr. Bethany Uhl: Yeah. Our incredible team at Flying Horse Farms is always working hard to find new and better ways to create some incredible fun for our campers. We are always expanding and improving, including in adding new diagnoses. So, like this year, we're adding a spinal cord camp for campers with spinal cord injury or spinal cord diagnoses.

We also recently received a grant where we were able to purchase even more adaptive equipment for all of our activity areas. We really excitingly this year, I'm super excited about these, got two wheelchair accessible golf carts. So, any camper that utilizes a wheelchair, we can take them anywhere in camp that much more easily.

And so, all of these things, we're always looking for ways that we can make camp even more accessible and fun. And currently, the team's really focused on gearing up for this summer.


So, our camper and volunteer applications are open. And so, I would encourage anybody who might know a camper with serious illness to really check out our website, which Dr. Mike's going to link, because those applications are open now. And camper applications have to be completed by March 15.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Let me ask you, Bethany, how do families find out about camp? So obviously, we're trying to raise awareness about this here on the podcast. But is this something that, especially pediatric subspecialties, who may be seeing these kids? Do you guys let them know about camp? And how do you recruit the folks?

Dr. Bethany Uhl: We have a good network of what we call "hospital champions". So those physicians, nurses, social workers, child life specialists, really, those people that are in the hospital are medical professionals that are working with these patients and can help spread the word. I know Dr. Megan has spread the word many times on her floor while she's working.

We have that, but also just word of mouth. So, if a family has a camper with a heart condition and they happen to be in a Facebook group of other caregivers with campers or patients with heart conditions, just letting them know that it's an option that's available for their family.


We get so many great stories of random run-ins at Target where they learned about camp or things like that, with people just talking about the exciting things that we're doing at Flying Horse Farms.

And then, Megan, finally, for our listeners who are interested, how can they get involved or support Flying Horse Farms? We've talked about the volunteer route. But maybe you don't live in Central Ohio. Perhaps you don't have the time or you're not able to take time off of work to come and volunteer. What other ways can families support this endeavor?

Dr. Megan Schaefer: Yes. So as Dr. Bethany mentioned, there are a lot of great volunteer opportunities if you live in Central Ohio and you're able to come and you can find those on and click on the Volunteer tab. So, there's great options there.

Other options to support the camp might be more related to donations or fundraisers. Flying Horse Farms has a wish list. So, if you ever want to check that out, there might be opportunities that you can give for equipment or other things that they're hoping to have to make camp successful for the kids.


And then, the other thing, as Dr. Bethany was mentioning, which is one of the most powerful, is being a camp champion. So, whether that looks like you meet families and other patients with chronic illness and you want to let them know about camp, that's helpful, right? Because it allows more kids to come through our doors. And then from a volunteer perspective, being a camp champion means sharing your amazing volunteering experiences.

And so, I think that when we share about the powerful moments that we've had with these kids, it encourages a lot of other providers that this is a really wonderful experience for providers who are often seeing kids in their sickest moments, to really see them be kids and know that this is like the quality of life that we're working towards when we're treating kids physically, medically, emotionally.

And so, I think sharing the stories and memories from camp is one of the biggest ways that you can continue to be a champion for Flying Horse Farms.

Dr. Mike Patrick: That's really great. And again, we'll put a link in the show notes for Flying Horse Farms, also for the SeriousFun Network of camps, which you can find over So you can see maybe what SeriousFun camp is in your area.


But here in central Ohio, Flying Horse Farms is the place. And actually, I know that we have folks who come from all over, even outside of Ohio. I know, I think there was a bus from Pennsylvania that brought kids to camp the week that I was there. So, it really does draw from the whole region, right?

Dr. Bethany Uhl: We actually had campers from about 20 different states last summer, including Puerto Rico. So, you're absolutely right that we have a pretty broad draw.

Dr. Mike Patrick: And even some of the nursing staff, you may have heard of traveling nurses. So, you do have volunteer positions, but you also have full-time nursing staff, which I think is important. You want the volunteer nurses, of course, especially if they have experience in a particular disease that might be at camp in that particular week.


But really just having a staff of nurses there that you pay the whole summer provides sort of continuity and a group of people who really know what's happening at camp and can be a resource for the other staff. And those medical staff come from all over, too. I mean, I met some nursing staff that were there for the whole summer who lived in North Carolina, for example.

Dr. Bethany Uhl: Absolutely. We have several traveling nurses that really create the backbone of our medical team in addition to our incredible full-time, year-round nurse. So, you're right that they're from, we have Missouri, Alabama, all over the place. And they just bring some incredible perspective and unique skills that help with volunteer training for our cabin counselors and just that continuity with helping the volunteer nurses feel comfortable and trained.

All of our volunteers go through pretty thorough training and feel equipped. But we also do team nursing. So, we'll pair our experienced seasonal nurses with the volunteer nurses and put them on a team together to really help support each other in the campers.


Dr. Mike Patrick: That is really great. Well, once again, Dr. Bethany Uhl, medical director of Flying Horse Farms, and Dr. Megan Schaefer, pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital, thank you once again to both of you for stopping by and sharing your experiences and information with Flying Horse Farms camp with all of us.

Dr. Bethany Uhl: Thanks so much for having me.

Dr. Megan Schaefer: Yeah, thank you for having us. We were very excited to share the magic of camp with you all.


Dr. Mike Patrick: We are back with just enough time to say thanks once again to all of you for taking time out of your day and making PediaCast a part of it. Really do appreciate that.


Also, thanks to our guests this week, Dr. Bethany Uhl, medical director of Flying Horse Farms, and Dr. Megan Schaefer, pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a member of the medical advisory board for Flying Horse Farms camp.

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Don't forget about PediaCast CME. It is similar to this program. We do turn the science up a couple notches and offer free Category 1 Continuing Medical Education Credit for those who listen.


And that includes physicians, of course, but also nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers, and dentists. And since Nationwide Children's is jointly accredited by all of those professional organizations, it's likely we offer the exact credits you need to fulfill your state's continuing medical education requirements. Of course, you want to be sure the content of the episode matches your scope of practice.

Shows and details are available at the landing site for that program, You can also listen wherever podcasts are found. Simply search for PediaCast CME.

Thanks again for stopping by. And until next time, this is Dr. Mike saying stay safe, stay healthy, and stay involved with your kids. So long, everybody.




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