Busloads of children who have received organ transplants arrived at Camp Michitanki as the ninth annual Camp Michitanki Golf Classic took place at Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center in Plymouth to raise funds for nearly all the camp’s expenses.
Camp Michitanki is a YMCA camp where children ages seven-15 who have received transplants, at the University hospital and elsewhere, can enjoy common summer camp activities. Campers can participate in activities such as swimming, archery and horseback riding under the supervision of nurses, doctors, volunteers and other camp staff.
After golfers spent the day on the links, a banquet was held with dueling pianos, an auction, a raffle for prizes and a video showing what kids do while they’re at Michitanki.
Dan O’Halloran — a National Hockey League referee who has officiated several Stanley Cup finals and the 2010 Winter Olympics gold medal game in Vancouver — was the keynote speaker at the event.
In an interview before the banquet, O’Halloran said he helped create Camp Michitanki and has been involved with raising money for the event for years because of his 22-year-old son’s liver transplant he received when he was 5 years old.
“He just celebrated his 17th year with his new liver, and he’s doing great,” O’Halloran said. “I’m really proud of him. He’s gone through a lot, and the hospital’s been great.”
O’Halloran said it was important to him and his wife to create a camp for transplant recipients in Michigan.
“When Devin first went to camp, the camp was in West Virginia,” O’Halloran said. “My wife and I thought, ‘Why are we taking these kids all the way to West Virginia for camp? Why not have our own camp right here in Michigan?’”
O’Halloran said a golf fundraiser seemed like a natural choice to raise money for the camp.
“The Transplant Center and I got together, they said, ‘That’s fine, but you need money to do this,’ ” he said. “And you know there’s other ways you can raise money, (but) this is my way. I love golf and my son loves golf.”
O’Halloran added that the camp is a great place for young transplant recipients to learn about adapting after their surgery.
“(Michitanki) teaches the kids … a lot about having a transplant and how to control their lives with medicine and know they can still live a normal life even though they’ve had a transplant,” he said. “And, it gives them some life skills they may not get elsewhere.”
O’Halloran also said his son Devin is a perfect example for showing how receiving a transplant doesn’t inhibit leading a normal life, saying Devin played hockey and golf as a child.
“Even though he’s had a transplant doesn’t mean he can’t do things … and that’s the key, is getting kids to learn that,” O’Halloran said.
O’Halloran said the camp has grown from about 30 kids its first year in West Virginia to more than 80 kids this year. He added that Victory Honda, the main sponsor of the event, was necessary for the start and growth of Michitanki.
“Someday maybe we’d like to have 200, and U of M actually has a property now that they want to build their own camp on,” O’Halloran said. “So we’re building toward that with fundraisers like this and sponsors like Honda. Victory Honda has been there for eight years … without them I wouldn’t have started it.”
Melissa Goodson, development events specialist for the Transplant Center, said the organization raises all the money for Michitanki.
“It’s a budget of about $80,000 a year to send just about 100 kids to camp who have all had transplants, and it’s only funded through donations,” she said.
Goodson said the families only have to pay a small fee, but receive help with that fee as well if need be.
“We don’t ask the families to pay anything but the $50 registration fee, if they can,” Goodson said.
She added that the annual golf outing raises between a third and a half of the $80,000 needed each year.
The camp offers a sometimes elusive opportunity for the kids to be kids, Goodson said.
“Everybody has a scar … and oftentimes these parents are so protective of these kids because they’re a sick kid,” Goodson said. “When they go to camp they play football, they do zip-lining, they go swimming, they jump in the lake, they ride horses (and) they do archery.”
Devin O’Halloran, who underwent transplant surgery 17 years ago, also golfed in the fundraiser. He said in an interview after the banquet that Michitanki was a great experience for him and he was happy to look in from the outside now.
“It’s really great to see the kids up there get out of their comfort zone with other children that have scars and are able to run freely and not ask questions,” Devin O’Halloran said.
Devin O’Halloran added that it was a special opportunity for kids who don’t normally get to try the activities.
“It’s mostly things that kids with transplants aren’t able to do on a normal basis. They’re allowed to do it in a safe environment with volunteers,” he said. “They have all the doctors they need there, they have medication on hand and they make it really safe for the kids — so it’s a lot of fun.”
Brett Butcher, who volunteered at the golf outing, said he had dropped off his daughter — a transplant recipient in December 2008 — at the camp earlier in the day.
Butcher said the camp is a great opportunity for families with financial burdens.
“The families that go that have kids with heart conditions have so much financial stress already that the University does all kinds of fundraising throughout the year to help pay for the camp,” Butcher said.
Butcher explained that his daughter is a Michigan State University fan, which was important during a certain point in her treatment.
“(My daughter) had a bad rejection episode last August, and one of the nurses in intensive care told her that if she was able to start getting out of bed by herself that she would wear a Michigan State shirt,” he said. “She had to go buy a Michigan State shirt and wear it.”
Kinesiology junior Marvin Robinson, a safety for the Michigan football team, and his father carried all of the luggage for the children at the camp and then came down to volunteer at the golf outing.
Robinson said he met Bob Garypie, director of development and communications for the Transplant Center, at a bowling fundraiser earlier this year that resulted in his involvement.
He added that he didn’t know anyone who had received a transplant until he volunteered but has valued meeting them.
“It was good meeting other people personally that have had transplants,” Robinson said. “(It’s) a great experience.”