Camp Hope

By: Clare La Plante

Youngest burn survivors help prove that massage heals

Page 2

One day, Dean and Smith had a new "what if" question: What if, instead of going as a counselor, Smith went as a massage therapist?


Smith contacted the camp's directors and was given permission to bring her massage table to the next summer's camp in July 2005. She also received permission from 18 of the attendees' parents. In July, she took a week's vacation from her job and headed off.

Smith arrived in the panhandle town of Cape San Blas in the fully accessible Billy Jo Rish State Park one day ahead of the kids, and prepped in a cabin that sat on a stretch of white sandy beach with mile-high sand dunes and sea grasses. She knew she was to work on 18 children, ages 8 to 17, who were all six months post-burn. What she didn't know is how they'd respond.

The children were leery, she says. Many would walk into Smith's cabin-often from a beach game or arts project-and ask, "What are you going to do to me?" Smith didn't say much. She simply showed them her compression garments and injured leg and said, "Massage helped me. I hope it will help you, too."

She also told the children that they could say stop at any time. "They had the whole power," she says. By the end of the week, the kids had opened up, she says, even the youngest ones. One young girl shared how she was teased at school. Another said that the scars on her feet usually scared those who saw them.

After the week's sessions, Smith drew a series of faces-from frowning to smiling. "I asked them to point to a face before and after session," she says. "The second child on the table-an 11-year-old softball player who had burned the back of her knees on a mini-bike and had range of motion issues-said that we needed another category. 'Happy Plus,' she said, 'because I feel great.'"

Gathering Evidence

Smith finished the week inspired. She returned to Gainesville and told Dean about her camp experiences. They took their "What if" game up a notch: What if they could prove that massage helps these kids? As a nurse, Dean understood that the medical profession loves concrete proof. "I wondered how we could put the results in language that the doctors would understand and appreciate," she says.

So Smith began planning the Camp Amigo Project-a study to prove that massage helps burn survivors. Diane Garrison, BA, LMT, a student at the Florida School of Massage and a burn survivor, jumped on board. She had grant writing experience and helped Smith to complete an already partially written grant, which was submitted to the Massage Therapy Foundation. The foundation awarded the Camp Amigo Project a grant of approximately $5,000 in 2006.


Two other Florida School of Massage students, Rachel Torres and Dana Rubin, joined the team as well. Smith then combined forces with Annie Morien, PhD, a physician assistant, licensed massage therapist and part-time instructor at the Florida School of Massage. Morien's research interest, coincidentally, was keloid and burn scars. She helped them with the language and research protocol of the study, and with writing up the results for-they hoped-publication in a scientific journal.

Together, Morien and Smith wrote an objective: "To determine if therapeutic massage intervention produced clinically meaningful changes in range of motion and keloid size/shape in children ages 8 to 18."

The four therapists-Morien stayed at home and would receive the results upon their return-headed to Camp Amigo in July 2006. In the medical cabin they shared with the other medical personnel, Smith and Rubin massaged eight children three to five times a week for approximately 30 minutes, while Torres and Garrison measured the range of motion, mood and circumference of scars. (The control was the same child but a different area of the body.)

They ran into a few kinks. First, they realized that scar circumference was tough to measure in camp conditions. Sun, for example, can cause keloids to pucker. Mood was difficult to measure as well. "Because the kids were at camp, they came in a happy mood and left in a happy mood," says Morien.

However, range of motion was a slam dunk. "Range of motion was significantly increased from the first day of camp to the last day," says Morien. In fact, she was surprised at how quickly it increased.