LaFontaine Lauds Local Charity

Sometimes, profound events move people towards profound purpose.

Such was the case for local and star involvement with Western New York’s “Dreams From the Heart Camp,” created in 1994 for children with severe congenital heart disease. A “Heart Walk” to support the camp takes place in Chestnut Ridge Park on the 2nd or 3rd Saturday every year. (This year’s Walk takes place on Saturday, October 15th.)

Many are excited to spread the word about the yearly event.

One of those people is former Buffalo Sabres’ star Pat LaFontaine, who knew a young man that helped to inspire this camp, Paul Orrange. Paul, along with his friends and family, watched a Sabres game with Pat, in Pat’s own luxury suite at the old Memorial Auditorium in 1995. Paul had been awaiting a heart transplant at the time, but many of the friends he brought with him that day were his buddies – from the college he was enrolled in. College? Absolutely. Nothing held Paul back from his dreams.

“Paul was a very special young man and this camp is a phenomenal way to honor his memory,” LaFontaine said in a recent interview.

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“This is a great way for children from throughout WNY with congenital heart problems to come to a place where they can comfortably laugh, play and maybe learn a little bit more about their health concerns. When kids are going through some tough medical times, they often find themselves in a very lonely place. A camp like “Dreams From the Heart” can have a profound effect on their recovery and their continued well-being.”

Paul never had his chance to attend the camp. But his heroes – his parents, LaFontaine – and many others, are working hard with this Camp while empowered by his legacy, and his inspiration.

Upon Paul’s passing, his parents Ray and Mary Beth joined the camp. The Cardiologists of Women’s and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo had taken up the cause to create this camp in 1994, when no others like it existed.

Located at the Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center, in Bemus Point on Lake Chautauqua, the camp now plays host to children from all areas of Western New York.

According to Ray Orrange, who currently serves as the Vice President of the Heart Camp Board, “The involvement of people connected with Paul has enabled camp to grow from fewer than 20 participants to over 100. In 2010, 110 kids attended, virtually all of whom are not physically able to attend a normal summer camp. Activities include swimming, canoeing, ‘Camp Olympics’, crafts, a talent show, horseback riding, nature walks and whatever else we can ‘dream’ up.”

“The campers are all from the Western New York area. Each of them has had major heart surgery, including heart transplants in 6 or 7 cases. Camp provides the children the opportunity to interact with peers, through activities structured with their limitations in mind. Additionally, the children are thrilled to see their physicians and nurses and technicians as friends and as the caring individuals they are, rather than just scary people in white coats.”

The walk is one of two events that the camp has created to generate funds for the services it and its staff of volunteers provide. It’s a family fun gathering at the lodge of Chestnut Ridge, which includes pizza, drinks, and a group stroll along the park’s winding, paved pathways, just as the leaves are turning colors. It is certainly a great time for a great cause.

People may not consider a walk to be much of a profound thing in itself, but the heart that goes into this event and into this camp, and what the camp does for the children of WNY, is very profound, and very special. It’s that sense that keeps so many people excited about this event, and to see it grow. Last year the walk brought 125 people to the Ridge, along with 10 campers. This year, the camp hopes to bring more – not just to keep the “dream” alive, but to see it thrive.

“I hope that anyone who has the means can get out and support the walk-a-thon,” said LaFontaine, “or just make even a modest contribution to this tremendous camp.”

More information on the camp and on donations can be found at Dreams From the Heart . Those seeking walk information can e-mail Mary Beth Orrange at orrange@ecc.edu.

Go Sabres.

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