Nova Scotia

N.S. teen excited to test new lungs as overnight camps reopen

As Nova Scotian youth gear up for overnight summer camps during Phase 3, one teen also has the chance to experience camp with a new set of lungs.

Wednesday marks Phase 3 of Nova Scotia's reopening plan, which means allowing overnight summer camps

Tahlia Ali is one of many kids who attend Brigadoon Village, a summer camp in Aylesford, N.S., that offers programs designed to accommodate various health conditions. (Submitted by Lisa Ali)

A Halifax teen is looking forward to testing out her new lungs at summer camp.

Tahlia Ali is a double lung transplant recipient and is practically skipping to Brigadoon Village in Aylesford, N.S. It's a traditional summer camp that offers programs designed to accommodate various health conditions.

"This camp has really helped me because it gives me a chance to speak with people about some things I couldn't talk about with other friends who don't have similar things to me," she said.

Like other camps in the province, Brigadoon was forced to call off its overnight programming last summer due to COVID-19 public health restrictions.

Nova Scotia enters Phase 3 of its reopening plan on Wednesday, at which time facilities that have public health measures in place can begin welcoming back overnight campers.

Ali didn't get to go to camp last year because the pandemic closed everything down. Knowing she will be able to swim this year for the first time with her new lungs adds extra excitement. (CBC)

Ali is most looking forward to jumping into the lake. It's something she wasn't able to do leading up to her lung transplant because she was hooked up to a subcutaneous pump.

"And swimming is one activity I've always loved since being a child," said the 16-year-old. "Swimming gives me freedom."

Ali was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a disease that reduces the flow of oxygen to blood vessels in the lungs, as a child. It's a life-threatening condition that gets worse over time.

Like all Nova Scotians requiring lung transplant surgery, Ali had to relocate to Toronto for the procedure. She left Halifax on May 20, 2020, but didn't receive her new lungs until November because of COVID-19-related delays.

Ali has been going to Brigadoon for six years. In 2019, she made a friendship that goes beyond camp.

CharlLee McKay is also 16 years old and lives with several chronic health issues, such as a connective tissues disorder and various heart conditions.

A life-changing experience

"Before I went to Brigadoon, like my whole life, I felt alone because I didn't know anyone that had what I had," she said. "But then I went to Brigadoon and all of the sudden there are all these people like me that have similar conditions."

Friends at camp are easier to talk to because they understand what she's going through, she said.

"It's a really good support system, like when I am going through stuff at the hospital, I know I have someone to talk to."

Ali and CharlLee McKay sit on the dock of the lake at Brigadoon Village. (CBC)

Following a year of mostly staying around home, McKay said she does have some nerves about being around people again.

"I got my vaccine, and the way Brigadoon is limiting numbers I feel safe going," she said.

Camp restrictions

Earlier this month, the province released guidelines for overnight camps. Some of those requirements include following mask protocols and operating with consistent cohorts of up to 15 campers.

Mat Whynott is president of the Camping Association of N.S. and P.E.I. He said the group worked with the government to create the guidelines and he's confident the measures will keep campers safe.

"I believe in my soul, heart and everything that I do, that camp is needed now more than ever," he said. "It changes lives."

He said before the pandemic, up to 11,000 kids were attending overnight summer camps in Nova Scotia.

"Kids who have gone to camp in the past have to know that camp may not look the same as it always has, and they should be prepared for that," he said.