Trail’s Edge Camp celebrates 25 years of camping fun for ventilator-dependent children

Twenty-five years ago, I was working as a respiratory therapist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital working with ventilator-dependent children. A mother of a ventilator-dependent child expressed how emotionally trying and physically exhausting her child’s care was at home. She simply wished for one week a year where she wasn’t responsible for the 24/7 care of her child whose life depended on the ventilator. So, we made that wish a reality and created Trail’s Edge Camp.

That first year we had 18 campers and 48 volunteers. Now, we have 32 campers and more than 100 volunteers each year. The first few years, we had to work hard to recruit volunteers, now we have many interested volunteers and many who put their lives on hold for a week year after year to work at the camp.

Except for the medical needs of the campers, Trail’s Edge is your typical summer camp full of fun. Campers ride horses, fish, explore a tree house and even test their skills with a crossbow. There’s no shortage of cabin pranks and fun and laughter all week long.

The changes we’ve seen over the past 25 years are amazing! When we started, the ventilator technology was very antiquated compared to today. Ventilators weighed 35 pounds, were the size of a microwave and ran off a car battery. Planning fun camping activities with that behemoth was a challenge, but we did it. We even had campers on horseback with a volunteer seated behind them providing their breaths via a resuscitation bag because the ventilators were too heavy and cumbersome to use while sitting on a horse.

Then came the innovations in technology. A California-based aerospace engineer whose father used a ventilator because he had ALS, was shocked at the ancient technology used in ventilators. He heard about Trail’s Edge and wanted to help our kids and all those who use a ventilator so he developed a ventilator the size of a laptop. Our campers can put it over their shoulder and off they go. No more hauling around a car battery!

Support the Trail's Edge Camp for vent dependent childrenOur campers have been the beneficiaries of many tremendous engineering advances. We have many campers who cannot use their hands, so we now have a fishing reel that can be activated with a chin switch. We also have a crossbow that campers can line up and trigger with chin or mouth stick. Next year we even hope to install a zip line from the tree house.

Perhaps the most rewarding thing about Trail’s Edge Camp is knowing that for one week each year, we’re giving these kids the chance to feel just like an average kid. They laugh and play and enjoy themselves. I also love when our former campers come back to volunteer. They are great role models for our campers. They are now adults leading productive lives as teachers and lawyers and other careers. It’s a real inspiration to the campers to see that their potential in life has no limits.

Take the next steps:

Mary Buschell, Trail's Edge CampAfter working as a respiratory therapist for 25 years, Mary Buschell retired from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The grandmother of four now lives in Northern Michigan and still has her passion for Trail’s Edge. She’s currently co-directing the camp with Jeff Cain, also a respiratory therapist at Mott and someone who has volunteered at the camp for 18 years. Jeff will take over the operations of the camp, but Mary will always be involved.


best children's hospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.