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NIH Director Francis Collins donned a dragon hat recently when he visited Camp Fantastic (Front Royal, Va.) to help campers celebrate the theme Medieval Magic. The weeklong camp lets children in all stages of cancer treatment shed their cancer image and feel like normal kids again. Camp Fantastic, in its 31st year, is the hallmark program of Special Love, a nonprofit organization that provides cancer families a network of support. Camp medical director Stephen Chanock (newly appointed scientific director for NCI-DCEG) and other NIH volunteers make it possible for children to attend the camp at any stage of their treatment.
“Activities range from traditional—canoeing, sports, and crafts—to extravagant—like this year’s visit from the Virginia Renaissance Faire—and allow all campers to challenge their self-imposed limits,” said Dave Smith, the CEO of Special Love. “Medical care is coordinated by staff from NCI and allows children to participate as fully as their protocols permit.”
“We draw doctors and nurses from NCI, NHLBI, and the CC, as well as from regional hospitals that send kids to the camp,” said Chanock. NCI/NICHD nurse Tamara Jenkins and NIH Children’s Inn director Kathy Russell “oversee, plan, and coordinate the camp.”
“It was a joy to spend an evening with all of the campers and camp leaders,” Collins wrote in an e-mail to Chanock, Jenkins, and Russell. “We are blown away by the environment you have created for these kids.”
Tom Baker (center), who founded Camp Fantastic after he lost a daughter to pediatric cancer, enjoyed having NIH Director Francis Collins (left) and his wife Diane Baker (no relation to Tom) visit the camp this summer.
Everybody wore hats to help celebrate the camp’s theme Medieval Magic (left to right): NIH Children’s Inn director Kathy Russell and NCI/NICHD nurse Tamara Jenkins (not pictured) who help plan and coordinate the camp; Stephen Chanock who has been Camp Fantastic’s medical director for many years; and Diane Baker and her husband NIH Director Francis Collins who joined in the fun when they visited the camp.