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Camp empowers burn survivors

MILLCREEK — Three metal hoops on posts stood on either side of a temporary dirt quidditch pitch set up in Millcreek Canyon on Tuesday afternoon.

Children wore black T-shirts with the words "Camp Nah Nah Mah" in gold print, with one "N" resembling the lightning bolt lettering seen on Harry Potter merchandise.

They scurried around the pitch along with members of the Utah Crimson Fliers quidditch team. Players called to each other and ran with sticks between their legs, tossed balls back and forth and attempted to catch a player with a small yellow snitch attached to the back of his yellow jersey.

Kidditch, or quidditch for kids, was part of this year's Harry Potter-themed Camp Nah Nah Mah. Most attendees are burn survivors who received treatment at the University of Utah, though the camp accepts other burn survivors as well. Campers attend for free.

"I just think their attitude is amazing. Kids in general are happy and fun, but these kids take it to another level," said Ben Reulig, a captain for the Crimson Fliers. "They have such a positive attitude, and they take instruction well, and they play together as a team well."

The Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America allows Camp Nah Nah Mah to use the Camp Tracy facility for free. Remaining camp costs are paid through donations to the University of Utah Burn Center and the Professional Firefighters of Utah unions.

University of Utah Health Care Burn Camps also provide a preschool camp for children ages 4-5, a river-rafting trip for teens 13-17, and river trips for young adults ages 17-21 and 21 and older.

"Honestly I can't tell you which of these kids have visible scars because being around them as long as we have, you really do stop seeing them," said Necia Wiggins, whose husband, Brad, a burn unit nurse at the University of Utah, started the camp 15 years ago. "I love that … it's no longer a part of who they are. You just see the kid."

The Wiggins' daughter, Kaelyn, 15, disagreed: "They wouldn't be who they are without (their burns)."

"I'm not saying that they're not who they are," Necia Wiggins said, "but … I love just getting to know these kids and seeing them for who they are not for what they look like."

Between Friday and Tuesday, the campers swam, had group discussions, attended yoga, line danced, made potion pouches, cast Patronus spells while animal shapes appeared on walls, and were visited by a reptile show, a magician, and an owl and bird trainer.

On Sunday evening the campers attended a red carpet event where they posed for pictures and answered questions for media.

All this in an effort to help burn survivors feel empowered.

“They leave here with tons of confidence, and … they feel like they can kind of conquer the world,” said Amber Williams, director of the preschool camp, who was sporting a homemade cape and shirt with a Superman 'S' on it.

Williams and her son, now 15, were burned in the same accident 10 years ago. Since then, she has attended two adult river trips, and her son was a camper at Nah Nah Mah and went on one river trip with the Burn Camp. She said "the biggest thing he takes away is how to talk to people that have questions."

This is the case for other campers, including Acacia Swann, 12, who finished her fourth and final year at the camp Tuesday. She said the ability to talk about how she was burned was one of the most useful things she learned.

Monday night, she channeled her inner-Carol Burnett in a rendition of “Little Girls” from the 1982 production of “Annie” — wobbly knees and all.

“She was a star,” Necia Wiggins said.

Acacia said the burn camp is the only time she is around other burn survivors. She encouraged those who meet burn survivors to realize there is more to each person than meets the eye.

“It doesn’t matter what they have on the outside. It just matters on the inside," she said. "So if you see someone that has a burn, instead of staring, go up and ask what happened."

Early Tuesday afternoon, campers Elizabeth Gappmayer, 11, of Spanish Fork, and Clara Ertmann, 10, of Murray, sent a baseball cap and drawstring satchel around for signatures from those at the camp. The two met Friday and were best friends by Tuesday.

When asked about their favorite parts of camp, their answers were nearly identical.

“Swimming with Elizabeth," Clara said.

“Meeting Clara,” Elizabeth chirped.

Without the camp, the two never would have met.

“They say it’s the burn family for a reason,” said Doug Clapp, a burn survivor who runs counselor and leadership training at Camp Nah Nah Mah.

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