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I'm Aware That I'm Rare: the phaware® podcast

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Morris Salem, MD - phaware® interview 459

Mar 12, 2024

In this episode, Dr. Morris Salem, a pediatric cardiologist, discusses his involvement with Camp del Corazon, a camp for children with congenital heart disease. Dr. Salem emphasizes the importance of addressing the emotional well-being of these patients, in addition to their physical health. He believes that the camp helps boost their self-confidence and allows them to have normal experiences. Dr. Salem also mentions the positive impact the camp has on parents, some of whom become involved in planning and fundraising for the organization.

Dr. Salem is also a 2024
Gala del Sol Honoree. This gala is a major fundraiser for the camp taking place Saturday, April 13, 2024. Click Here for Tickets. Click Here to take part in the virtual auction. 

#galadelsol #campdelcorazon #heartcamp #camplove #supportagoodcause 

Hi, my name is Dr. Morris Salem. I am a board certified pediatric cardiologist and I have an additional board certification in adult congenital heart disease. I work at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California and I am happy to say that I'm one of the honorees at the Gala del Sol, that's going to be occurring on April 13th, 2024.

I've been involved with this camp,
Camp del Corazon, for over 20 years. I was very close friends with the founders of this camp, Lisa Knight, and I continue to be very close friends with Kevin Shannon, MD. Over the last 20 some odd years, I've been referring lots of patients to this camp. It's truly been an incredible experience when these patients come back and tell me about the best time that they've had in their entire lives and that they want to go back.

I have on my desk right in front of me a prescription pad that says, "This is a prescription from me to you to go to camp." I find kids that are 7, 8, 10, 12, teenagers who are shy, who are in a space in their lives where they're not confident at all. They don't have a whole lot of friends and they're not feeling confident about themselves. In the 15, 20, 30 minutes that they're in the office with me, it's pretty obvious. I've known a lot of these patients their entire lives from when there were fetuses all the way up to however old they are, and you can tell. You can tell that they're just not confident. They are very gun shy and perhaps very self-conscious about who they are and what they're able to do and what their role is in life. Every time I see one of these patients, I run to my office, grab a prescription and hand it over to them. I tell them that they have to do this. This is a requirement. This is medication. A fair number of them actually take me up on it and sign up for camp.

A lot of these kids are really sheltered by their parents just because of everything they've been through. The parents are just as hesitant as the kids are in terms of letting their little babies go off and do whatever they need to do. Now, obviously they're not babies, they're older kids, but they treat them like they're a piece of ceramic. They're very, very sheltered. It is quite difficult to get both the parents and the kids to agree to go to this, but a lot of times there's a lot of tears shed on both the parents' part and the kids' parts before they leave. But once they get there, it is a transformative experience. It is one that completely changes their outlook on life. They don't want to come back.

I had one patient, recently, who fit this scenario precisely. Parents didn't want him to go. He didn't want to go. I forced him to go. He went and due to some weather circumstances, they actually got trapped there for an extra day or two and he did not want to come back. Absolutely did not want to come back. I saw him shortly after his trip and he was just glowing, bubbling. He's going to be a frequent flyer. He's going to keep going back until somebody tells him he cannot go back anymore.

It's always very difficult when you get patients who have done nothing wrong. This is not of any fault of themselves. This is something that's just happened to them and unfortunately they have to learn to deal with it, and our job is not just to help them deal with it from a physical standpoint, but also from an emotional standpoint. The physical standpoint, we can take care of. We have medications, we have procedures, we have all sorts of different things that we can do. We can tell you with the ultrasound what the heart function looks like. We can give it numbers, but the emotional aspect is something that's a lot more challenging for us to deal with.

Learning how to treat these patients as not just as patients, but as human beings who think like any other child does. They need to experience things that other kids who don't have these limitations and don't have to think about, can I do this? Can I not do this? Should I do it? Should I not do it? That's really what keeps us going and keeps us motivated to keep pushing and treating these patients and helping them to have normal experiences. That's what the point of all of this is, not just the body, but the mind and the soul.

I think camp and self-confidence and your ability to see your self-worth as who you truly are and not as a diagnosis really helps open up a lot of opportunities for you. These kids come back and they want to do things. They want to go out and run a little bit faster in PE. They want to join that team. Maybe they're not the fastest, maybe they're not the strongest. It doesn't matter. They just want to be involved. That in and of itself really helps to propel them and open up more and more and more doors and really make them productive members of our society, which is very important.

It's very interesting, I think a lot of our parents are also incredibly positively impacted by this camp experience that their children have. One of my parents of a child who actually attended camp has actually become very, very invested and very, very involved in the camp in terms of planning and in terms of fundraising, in terms of all aspects of this camp. It is a sense of belonging. It's a sense of making a difference and taking this experience that you had nothing to do with provoking or bringing onto yourself, but turning it into a positive aspect and turning it into something that you can share with other people who are going through the same experience.

Being at Kaiser, we take care of roughly 5 million members in the Southern California region. As you can imagine, that's a huge, huge number of patients that we deal with. I've been at Kaiser close to 25 years, and I've seen and taken care of thousands upon thousands of patients. Part of what I do is really coordinate and take care of all sorts of patients with congenital heart disease and all sorts of associated conditions from San Diego all the way up to Bakersfield.

I'm well known and affiliated with all the major institutions in town, including UCLA, Children's Hospital of LA, Loma Linda, everybody in Southern California. It's through my affiliation with all these institutions and my referral to the camp, many, many patients over the last 20 years, that the camp committee took notice and said, "Wait a second. Maybe this guy who does a lot of work and refers a lot of patients should be someone we recognize."

I really want to encourage everybody to look into this amazing organization, Camp del Corazon. They are a purely volunteer led organization with one goal and one goal only in mind, and that is to take care of these children and their families with congenital heart disease. They do this out of love. They do this out of commitment. They do this out of a sense of purpose. This Gala that's set for April 13th, 2024 is their major fundraiser. It is where they collect a majority of the funds that they're going to be utilizing over the summertime for this camp that is held in Catalina.

This camp is really intended for patients who are special, patients with congenital heart disease, other affiliated conditions like pulmonary hypertension, anything that involves the heart and the lungs as a chronic issue. These are the types of kids that attend this camp in a very safe and very closely monitored fashion so nothing can happen to them. If it does, there are people there who can take care of them and make sure that they're safe. It is free of costs. All expenses are completely paid for, mainly from fundraisers such as this. There is a virtual camp for families that cannot make it to California to make it to this camp.

There is both a silent auction and a live auction that will be offered at
Gala del Sol on April 13th. That is well, well worth everyone to sign in and look at if you can't physically make it to this Gala.

My name is Dr. Morris Salem and I'm aware that my patients are rare.

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