Meet a Health Hero: Lexi Campbell
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Name: Lexi Campbell
Role: Founder of Camp Cranium, a non-profit summer camp dedicated to providing a one-of-a-kind experience for children ages six to18 with brain injuries.
Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
There are many factors that have contributed to my passion for health, but the main source has been my time volunteering at medical camps. I started volunteering when I was 18 years old and continue even now, at 36. I believe there are more pieces to the puzzle of health than just a healthy diet and exercise. Our mindset, spirit, sense of belonging, and emotions all contribute to being healthy. As a pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant nurse, I strongly believe in the need for physical health. But without these other components, a person cannot be truly healthy. Through my time as a music therapist then nurse, I have watched patients struggle to regain health. The medical camps I volunteer at have greatly increased the self-esteem, belongingness, and confidence of our campers and contributed to their overall health. This has been life changing for me!
Describe a health or fitness-related turning point in your life.
When I was 26 years old, I was working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as a music therapist on the brain injury rehab unit. I had been volunteering at medical camps for eight years at that point, and kept trying to find similar resources for my brain-injured patients. There was nothing in the community for them. Once they were discharged from the hospital, the most they could hope for was continued outpatient therapies like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. That was it! This was frustrating for me to watch because I knew the tremendous impact that medical camps could provide to children struggling with medical diagnoses and injuries.
It was at this point that I realized that I needed to provide this for these patients. I recruited a friend to help me raise the $250 required to apply for non-profit status and then began recruiting board members from our very talented group of therapists and doctors at CHOP. Within nine months, we had our non-profit status, a board of directors, funding for camp expenses, and held our very first week of Camp Cranium with 24 campers! Each year since then, we have grown and now serve approximately 60 campers with acquired or traumatic brain injuries for a week each June and have almost 90 volunteer staff.
What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
I would absolutely advocate to have increased education about brain injury in the community as well as policies to provide resources needed to the families and children struggling to recover from brain injury. Many people do not realize how common brain injury actually is in children. Children can suffer from strokes, have brain tumors that when being resected cause a stroke or damage the brain, and even more commonly, can be involved in accidents that cause traumatic brain injuries.
There needs to be education within the community to recognize signs of stroke and also to implement preventative measures to reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury. Accidents do happen and many times cannot be prevented, however there are things that can reduce their effects like helmets on bike riders, proper car seats, and the most important of all, reduction in drunk driving. So many of our campers have been struck by drunk drivers, and it is completely devastating. One moment of bad choices and selfishness can destroy another person or family’s life.
In addition, schools need to have the education on how to provide the best resources and settings for our brain injured children to learn and excel. There are fantastic resources from the group Brain Steps that currently serves the Philadelphia region. They should be implemented in every school district statewide.
What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
The most important part of my health regimen is providing a sense of belongingness to our campers with brain injuries. Their lives have been greatly altered and many have lost friends, independence, and their sense of self. This can be devastating to their overall health. Camp allows them to meet other kids their age who are experiencing the same struggles and helps them to become acquainted with their new abilities.
Many campers have become completely dependent upon caregivers/parents, and camp allows them to recognize that they can regain skills and accomplish goals on their own as well. We have a 35-foot climbing wall that every camper, even those confined to wheelchairs, can climb and ring the bell at the top. We take them swimming daily, have a zipline, dances, art, music, fishing, paddleboats, and many events that help them remember that they are more than just their brain injury. They are incredible kids with so much to offer. Because of these experiences, I have been able to gain perspective on my own life and recognize that my daily struggles can easily be managed. I am so grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with and am inspired by our campers to keep a positive attitude and mindset when faced with difficult problems. This has helped to keep me healthy mentally and motivate me to remain healthy physically as well.
What is your number one piece of health-related advice or encouragement?
Give back to others. When you do this, you gain so much more than what you have given. It brings joy, inspiration, happiness, encouragement, and motivation to do more. It takes the focus from your own daily frustrations and brings about a strong sense of self that allows you to maintain a healthy mindset. When you feel healthy mentally, you want to remain healthy physically as well. I think a huge problem in our country is that we are so focused on ourselves. We get caught up in our daily problems like frustrations with our jobs, or even small things like traffic or lines at the coffee shop. Life is so much bigger than all of that, and helping others can allow you to experience life to the fullest. Isn’t that the true goal for health anyway? Living life to the fullest!
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