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Resources and Stories from Angel Flight West.

Child Burn Survivors: Finding Hope and Happiness at Summer Camp

Angel Flight West provides hundreds of flights for children to reach speciality summer camps each year. We are honored to partner with Camp Courage to help child burn survivors reach camp with the help of dedicated volunteer pilots.

At first, Rudy was a bit nervous about sending his teenage boys, Diego and Rodolfo, on a flight to their summer camp. With Diego on the autism spectrum and Rodolfo known to experience anxiety, Rudy recognized his sons might need a bit more attention than other kids.

What helped put his mind at ease was the fact that his sons weren’t headed to just any summer camp — this was Camp Courage, a gathering place for children and teens who, like the brothers, were burn survivors searching for community and social acceptance.

In 2009, Rudy nearly lost both boys and his wife in a house explosion in Mexico. All three endured significant scarring and were treated at Maricopa County Hospital in Phoenix. It was there the family was introduced to the Arizona Burn Foundation, and ultimately, to Camp Courage. Today, that Phoenix-based camp is one of the boys’ favorite places to be — a one-week oasis where their confidence climbs and friendships form.

“Camp is a highlight of the year,” Rudy said. “Christmas comes in second, after camp.”

2019 Campers Diego Rodolfo and Madison with Volunteer Pilot Stephen and his Mission Assistant and wife Joanne

Offering a slew of exciting camp activities, including ziplining, horseback riding, and laser skeet, Camp Courage regularly draws children, counselors, and volunteers from all over Arizona. Some participants, however, have a far easier trek to and from camp than others.

“We have a lot of burn survivors who live in Tuscan and Greenley,” said Arizona Burn Foundation Program Director Krystin Bridges, who also serves as director of Camp Courage. “Greenley is very, very rural, and almost a five-hour drive to Phoenix…[but] Angel Flight West has allowed our campers to come to camp when they otherwise might not be able to.”

On four occasions, Diego and Rodolfo have been beneficiaries of exactly that sort of support, as Angel Flight West’s volunteer pilots fly them to and from their camp experience. With each trip, Rudy’s anxieties have lessened, as he has come to know and trust the Angel Flight West volunteer pilots and staff.

“I can’t say enough good things about them,” Rudy said. “They’re always in communication. We know where they are, with the [Angel Flight West] app. When wheels touch down, we get a text or a phone call. We’re never in the dark.”

Command Pilot John Hartwick provides a flight for Diego and Rodolfo to Camp Courage Volunteer pilots fly these important missions each year

That sense of safety and consistency, Rudy says, means everything to the family. Freed of the responsibility and strain of a long drive to and from Camp Courage, Rudy now uses camp week to focus on his own growing business and supporting his family. 

“As much as I love my boys and being with them,” Rudy said, “that’s two days of travel that I can work.”

All the while, Rudy says, he’s thrilled to know his sons are in good hands and are able to experience a place they love. Now, the whole family even looks forward to the air travel itself. 

“The biggest part is they feel more independent,” Rudy said, “because they’re flying out of here. It’s all part of the whole excitement….and [for me], part of being a father is learning to let go.”

Article by David Radcliff

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