Health Hero Challenge

There Weren’t Any Summer Camps for Kids With Brain Injuries in the Area. So This Pediatric Nurse Created One.

Meet 2019 Health Hero Challenge semifinalist Alexis Campbell, the founder of Camp Cranium.


summer camp brain injuries

Alexis Campbell — a pediatric nurse who founded Camp Cranium, a summer camp for kids with brain injuries — is a semifinalist in our Health Hero Challenge. / Graphic by Meredith Getzfread

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with our semifinalists in the 2019 Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge to give you a glimpse of the people who are helping Philadelphians live healthier lives. Vote to decide which of these 10 semifinalists become one of three finalists — and get a sizable donation to a charity of their choice — here.

Name: Alexis (Lexi) Campbell

Role: Founder, board president, and director of Camp Cranium, a a nonprofit program dedicated to providing one-of-a-kind experiences for children ages six to 18 with brain injuries.

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Describe a health- or fitness-related turning point in your life.

When I was 26 years old, I was working at 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 were 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 nonprofit status and then began recruiting board members from our very talented group of therapists and doctors at CHOP. Within nine months, we had our nonprofit 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. In addition to the week of camp, we also provide events year-round to help support our campers and their families. We have a yearly teen adaptive ski trip each February to the Poconos, adaptive climbing events in the Philadelphia region, adaptive dance classes in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and even a reunion each fall at the Phillies game.

summer camp brain injuries

Camp Cranium empowers kids with brain injuries to overcome the limitations placed on them. / Photograph courtesy of Alexis Campbell

What motivates you to try and make Philadelphia a healthier place?

There are many factors that have contributed to my passion for health in our community, and 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 39.

I believe there are more pieces to the puzzle of health than simply a healthy diet and exercise. Our mindset, spirit, sense of belonging, and emotions all contribute to being healthy. I strongly believe in the need for physical health, but without the components of being fulfilled emotionally and spiritually, a person cannot be truly healthy.

Through my time as a music therapist, and now as a pediatric 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. Camp has allowed our campers to reach beyond what they thought were their own limitations and accomplish activities like climbing a 35-foot climbing wall, flying down a zipline, and skiing down snowy slopes! This has been life-changing for me and for our campers.

What “policy” would you institute to make greater Philadelphia a healthier region?

I would implement stricter policies in relation to drunken driving. Programs that provide free rides for an individual who has had too much to drink could be funded by the community. I would also implement stronger punishments and consequences if a person is caught driving under the influence, especially if they have multiple offenses.

In addition, I feel that more therapeutic interventions, such as volunteer work and therapy sessions for those who have driven under the influence, could make a bigger impact in recovery and reduce repeat offenses. Lives have been destroyed because of one terrible, irresponsible choice to drive while intoxicated. So many of our campers have been struck by drunk drivers, and it is completely devastating. All of their potential in life, their goals and dreams, are shattered. One moment of bad choices and selfishness can destroy another person and their family’s lives permanently. I feel it should be made a priority for our community in the near future.

What’s the most important part of your health or wellness regimen?

The most important part of my health regimen is to keep myself grounded through mindfulness, meditation, and prayer. These practices allow me to approach my day without getting upset. I’m able to make healthier choices all around in relation to eating, exercise, and interacting with others. God has provided me with a strong sense of wanting to help others return to health, both physically and mentally. I work to make this happen every day in my job as a pediatric nurse as well as year-round with my work at Camp Cranium. Providing our campers with a strong sense of self and empowering them to reach their potential gives them the foundation to reach a true state of health.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice/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 perspective 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, 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?