Dr. Ben Sohmer and his team went the extra mile to ensure two children battling cancer had a great summer at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB).
Sohmer, a physician at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, is a member of the CBB board. As co-chair of the camp’s medical committee responsible for the health and welfare of approximately 680 campers and staff, Sohmer said his job is to “arrange and organize” the team of medical professionals who work at CBB during the summer.
“I provide support for them as needed for the summer, and I liaise between the camp and parents regarding any medical conditions or diseases that kids have that come to the camp,” he explained.
Sohmer said there were two children with cancer at CBB this summer.
Joy Gandell’s 11-year-old daughter Talia was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a soft tissue tumor in her rib, which prevented her from attending CBB last year.
Gandell said she was initially scared to allow Talia to attend camp this year because she would be “allowing someone else to [administer] her medicine and having to trust they would give it all correctly.”
Gandell spoke with CBB Assistant Director Cindy Presser Benedek about her concerns and “within minutes” she received a call from Sohmer, who alleviated her concerns.
“He explained the process to me, he read from the health form, and he really took the time to understand what Talia’s needs were. That was huge,” Gandell said.
Gandell said when she came to camp to drop off Talia’s medication, both of the CBB staff doctors and Sohmer were there to meet her.
“They asked questions repeatedly – in different ways – to make sure they fully understood everything and that no issues would occur,” she said.
Sohmer explained he was in contact with Gandell before Talia came to camp, “so that we knew what her specific medical status was, and so that the medical team and I could anticipate any potential issues.
“We wanted her mother to feel comfortable that [Talia] was in a safe place,” he said.
Gandell said the staff at the camp were “amazing” and that without them Talia likely would not have stayed for the 11 weeks.
“As long as the doctor says ‘yes’, [the camp staff] will bend over backwards to do whatever they can to help with the accommodations,” she said.
Gandell told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin that Talia’s cancer is now in remission.
Andrew Kujavsky’s 13-year-old son Charlie, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia, also attended the camp this summer.
Kujavsky said Charlie was initially “devastated” to hear he would not be able to attend camp because of his regular chemotherapy treatments.
“So I touched base with camp, and without hesitation they said they would do anything to accommodate him and allow him to have some form of camp experience,” Kujavsky said.
Kujavsky said the original plan was to bring Charlie to the camp during the day and then drive him home every night. However, Kujavsky, a family physician, was scheduled to serve as a CBB doctor for a few weeks, and CBB was able to accommodate Charlie so he could come to camp between chemotherapy sessions, for a total of 16 days, and stay overnight in the camp infirmary.
“He couldn’t be exposed to the general population in the cabins, but he would spend all day with his friends from 9 am to 10 pm, and then come sleep in with us [in the infirmary],” Kujavsky said. “There was never any hesitation on the camp’s part. He participated in all the camp’s activities, he was treated just like any other camper, and he ended up having a wonderful summer.”
Kujavsky said Sohmer was “instrumental in this process,” and he also credits Presser Benedek and Adam Tanner, chair of the CBB board, for ensuring kids like Charlie are able to experience camp.
“These two kids got to be kids this summer, for sure,” Sohmer said.