Trail's Edge Ventilator Camp


  • Mary Buschell

  • Camper and staff at Trail's Edge.

  • The treehouse at Trail's Edge.
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“It Absolutely Would Not Let Me Go”

Mary Buschell has worked with and cared for ventilator-dependent children for over twenty years as a respiratory therapist at U-M’s Mott Children’s Hospital. She knows the 24/7 vigilance, the depth of skill and knowledge it takes to care for a child needing a ventilator to breathe. “It’s a sentence,” says Mary.

Mary Buschell has worked with and cared for ventilator-dependent children for over twenty years as a respiratory therapist at U-M’s Mott Children’s Hospital. She knows the 24/7 vigilance, the depth of skill and knowledge it takes to care for a child needing a ventilator to breathe. “It’s a sentence,” says Mary.

Mary started working at Mott’s Children’s Hospital in 1981. She felt, early on, the struggles of the parents with ventilator-dependent children─the chronic exhaustion, the financial stress, and never-ending battles with insurance and equipment companies. Eventually she saw the parents get into a routine. But she also knew that the relentlessness of the demands did not cease, nor did the stress, since any failure to respond, both quickly and appropriately, can result in the child’s death.

So Mary and her Mott Respiratory Care colleagues started a support group for parents with ventilator-dependent children. It helped, but wasn’t enough.

“These families were overburdened,” says Mary. “They needed more support.”

One day a mom in one of the support groups came to Mary, utterly fragile. “She said, ‘I don’t have a week. If I just had a week…’

“It haunted me,” says Mary. “I fought it like the devil. I had two kids [of my own]. I had a full life. I had a full job. It absolutely would not let me go.”

“This had never been done before. More than half the people who heard about it thought we were out of our minds. ‘What about the liability?’”

Before the camp opened, Mary met with UMHS attorney Ed Goldman. She had never met with a university lawyer before. “You kinda have the idea that [they’re going to say], ‘Hell, no! Malpractice!’ But he said, ‘That’s a wonderful idea!

“It’s that kind of stuff that makes you believe that the university is really something different,” Mary says.

A Different Kind of Camp

A year later, in June of 1990, the camp Mary founded, opened: Trail’s Edge Camp, a week-long summer camp for ventilator-dependent kids, 3-18 years old, at Camp Fowler in Mayville, Michigan.

Mary’s parents, Margaret and Fred, died before they had a chance to see Trail’s Edge. “I know that they were the ones giving me my strength,” says Mary.

Mary found something else at Trail’s Edge, something she was not expecting. “I met the love of my life while we were building the [Trail’s Edge Camp] tree house,” she says. “I am so fortunate,” Mary says, “that my husband, who teaches tree-climbing and helps out at the tree house, gets as much out of the experience as I do.”

Mary and her husband work at the camp every summer, and “come back exhausted, and just so inspired,” she says.

When the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary happened in December 2012 (when a 20-year old male fatally shot twenty children and six adults at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut) Mary was devastated. “The one thing that kept me going,” she says, “was knowing that I would go to camp orientation in May, and there would be fifty new volunteers, extraordinary people, the same age as that disturbed young man at Sandy Hook.”

Mary retired from the U-M in 2005. She has been living with her husband, happily, on a small dairy goat farm in Northern Michigan. She has two grown children (from a first marriage that ended in divorce—she says never meet a man you want to marry in a bar). Her daughter is an administrator for the University of Michigan Health System, and her son manages two new high rise student apartment buildings in Ann Arbor.

Mary, now 64, is the grandmother of four. She still can’t believe it, or that she made such a difference, when her only post high school education was a two-year (respiratory therapist) degree from Washtenaw Community College.

“It is so great knowing that not only are there all these good people, but you’ve actually had a little bit of influence in their lives. What more can you ask for?”

— Jan Schlain