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All smiles for camp

When Kayla Hayes of Evergreen goes to camp for the first time next week, she plans to take two of her best friends with her.

When she talks about the fun they’ll have, she lists riding horses, swimming, boat riding and singing among the activities to which she’s looking forward. And she’s also busy trying to convince the friend — who says she’s scared of swimming — to get into the pool.

“Pleeeeeeease,” she said, flashing a look that would melt an iceberg.

Kayla’s first camping experience will be at Camp SMILE near Mobile, managed by United Cerebral Palsy of Mobile.

The friends who’ll go to camp with Kayla next week are not her peers, but her physical and occupational therapists at Andalusia Regional Hospital, Garian Gooden and Malissa Hester. The two first started talking to Kayla’s mom about the possibility in January, and volunteered to make the trip with her.

“They are the very reason she’s going to camp,” Janet Hayes said.

In the past 14 years, she’s only left Kayla with relatives.

“When these two ladies started talking to me about the possibility of her being away from home, I was a little scared,” Hayes said “But I know they’ll take good care of her. It’s like I’m letting her go with friends, and that’s really how we all feel.”

Kayla’s mom will take her to camp and meet with the camp nurse about Kayla’s medications. Gooden and Hester will join her there.

Gooden said she hasn’t been to camp since she was a child; Hester has never been.

“My mom asked me if I was going with one of my patients,” she said. “But she’s not one of my patients; she’s Kayla!”

It’s the bond the three share that makes Kayla’s regular trips to outpatient therapy more like an outing than a chore, her mom said.

Cerebral palsy (CP) describes a group of permanent disorders of the development of movement and posture. Medical intervention is limited to the treatment and prevention of complications arising from CP’s effects.

During each visit, Gooden and Hester work with Kayla on the ability to push her own wheelchair, to balance, to stand, and to maneuver herself out of the chair without assistance.

But ask Kayla what they work on and she immediately responds, “We go to see the babies.”

Seeing the babies is her reward for pushing her own wheelchair, and she’s eager to stand up to get a closer look at the babies in the nursery once she gets there. If it’s a trick designed to make therapy fun, Kayla doesn’t seem to mind.

Next week, she and her friends will be immersed in a camping adventure with campers near Kayla’s age. The theme for the week is “pirates and princesses.” All three of the girls plan to be princesses.

And unless she can figure out how to say “no” to a very persuasive Kayla, one of them might even learn to swim.