December marked the 5th anniversary of the founding of Camp Karma, the Indian subcontinent’s only burn-survivor camp. Camp Karma started as the vision of one woman, Dr. Vinita Puri, professor and head of the department of plastic surgery, Seth GS Medical College (GSMC) and King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital in Mumbai.
Founded in 1926, the Seth GS Medical College (GSMC) and the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital are amongst the foremost institutions in India for medical training and patient treatment. The hospital treats about 1.8 million patients annually and provides both basic care and advanced treatment facilities in all fields of medicine and surgery.
As head of a busy burn ward, Dr. Puri envisioned a place where her pediatric surgical patients could come to be with other children who had survived burns. Camp Karma is important because of the magnitude of the problem of burns in India. Nearly 2 million people are burned in India each year and girls in India suffer burn disabilities and deaths at nearly twice the rate of girls around the world.
The camp is designed to provide a safe place where kids can be kids, and for 72 hours forget about their daily struggles. Parents are not allowed to escort their children—the camp is for kids and only kids.
Historically, Camp Karma is staffed exclusively by medical volunteers– reconstructive plastic surgeons, nurses and occupational and physical therapists who have worked with each child through multiple surgical procedures and been a part of their journey to recovery.
This year, however, Dr. Puri thought about the future of the camp and how to involve more children. In India, sleepaway camps are rare and culturally, families are not always comfortable sending their children. Getting children to participate has therefore been on on-going effort. To address this, in 2018 Dr. Puri invited two special moms to join the camp, with the idea that with firsthand knowledge of the camp, these parents will be inspired to encourage others to let their children participate.
Savita, (left) and Sharmila both know first-hand how Camp Karma have inspired their children. Both of their daughters were burned at a very young age.
Savita’s daughter, Shruita, was playing outside at the age of 4 years old while her mother was melting the pulp of sugar cane to make candy. The pot fell on her and burnt her arm. The burns were so bad, Savita could see her daughter’s bones. Without local access to surgical care, it was about a year before Savita found Dr. Puri and her team and was able to get care for her daughter.
The first surgery was a skin graft to protect the bones and the second one was at age twelve to release the contracture. For a total of 8 years Shruita did not have use of her hand or arm. Dr. Puri invited Shruita to be a part of the first Camp Karma at the age of 13. “When I am at camp I completely forget about home”, said Shruita.
According to Savita, it was the happiest time in her life when her daughter come home smiling, giggling and super happy. Thrilled with the results of the camp, Savita has continued to send Shruita each year. Unfortunately, 2018 will be Shruita’s last year because she is aging out of the camp.
Shruita believes that her accident was a gift from God to make her stronger. She views it not as a weak point but a strong point. Her mother, Dr. Puri and her surgeons have given her strength. She is determined not to let her burns stop her from doing what she wants in life–becoming a surgeon.
Shruita has been a role model for the younger kids as she emulates a positive spirit and can-do attitude. She wants to give back to others like herself who have been burned.
The other change to Camp Karma in 2018 is that Dr. Puri welcomed a team of US volunteers from RealSelf. RealSelf, as a long-standing corporate partner of ReSurge, was looking for a stronger partnership that went beyond writing a check.
RealSelf wanted a partnership that included employee engagement as well as to continue their corporate social responsibility. Thus, their program “Beyond Scars “ was created.
The RealSelf Beyond Scars program supports the work of ReSurge by supporting local medical professionals and sending trained medical teams and volunteers to the areas of the country where burn survivors have limited access to critical care. Locations served include Camp Karma in Mumbai and the Helping Hands Center in Dehradun.
As we said goodbye to Camp Karma, we had tears in our eyes but joy in our hearts, knowing that wherever life takes these kids, Camp Karma will always be their special place.