Young burn survivors bond with first responders at Camp David

Firefighter Day at Camp David always comes with some special connections

KERRVILLE, Texas – Every year, Camp David, a camp for pediatric burn survivors and their family members, gives children a fun getaway and allows them to bond with first responders. 

Gloria Valasquez, 10, spent her Wednesday showing up Sparky the Fire Dog with her dance moves. She's not only a dancing queen, however, she's also a burn survivor.

"I got burned by a bonfire. It caught my dress. It's been difficult, but at camp, it's more of my getaway," she said.

The Texas Burn Survivor Society created Camp David for that exact reason. 

"Camp is amazing. I love it here," Gloria said enthusiastically.

The week-long camp is held at the Texas Lions Camp in Kerrville. Every year on the Wednesday of the camp is firefighter day, which means giant fire hoses, of course, but also bonding with first responders.

San Antonio Air Life staff members show up to the camp with their helicopter every year. The staff members have a special connection with the campers. Many of the children have been inside a helicopter during the worst day of their lives.

The most important connection, however, is the one between survivors themselves.

"I was 18 months old and pulled a pot of water off the stove and had a burn all over my arm and chest -- third-degree burns. I was in the hospital for over a month, went through a ton of surgeries," said Jason Heavyside, a San Antonio firefighter.

Heavyside's story is one the children truly understand. That's why he never misses Camp David Firefighter Day, knowing he can show kids what's possible.

"How it was growing up, how I dealt with it," Heavyside said about what he talks about with the children.

The bonding means the world to Gloria, who hopes images of Camp David will fill her community with more kindness.
"It's hard to understand that others are different, but different can be good in lots of ways. And I'm sure when they get to know the person that's burned, they would end up loving them," she said with a smile.

Find out more about Camp David or other Texas Burn Survivors Society services by clicking here.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.