The Smile of a Child

A key driver of the CHEST Foundation is to provide financial grants to advance medicine and improve the quality of life for those with lung disease. In 1996, the foundation set its sights on providing grants for research, distinguished scholars, and community service. 

When asked about the grants awarded by the CHEST Foundation, 1996 Board Member and 1997 CHEST President, D. Robert McCaffree, MD, Master FCCP, recalls one grant, in particular, that stuck with him throughout the years because it gave children the gift of a childhood. 

Moises Simpser, MD, FCCP, received one of the first awards given during the 1998 CHEST Annual Meeting in recognition of the work he had done to establish and run an overnight camp for ventilator-assisted children from all over the country.

The late CHEST Member and Creator of VACC Camp, Moises Simpser, MD, FCCP, and his wife Esther.

Dr. Simpser created Ventilation Assisted Children’s Center Camp (VACC Camp) with the intention of giving families with ventilator-dependent children the “vacation of a lifetime.” The camp placed its focus on providing recreation for ventilation-assisted children and their families and creating an opportunity for ventilation-assisted children and their family members to socialize with other families who face similar challenges at home. 

The camp had a full staff of medical volunteers, including now-retired Respiratory Therapist, Carlos Gallostra. “Dr. Simpser’s goal was to give a break to the families caring for ventilator-dependent children. To provide respite for just a week where they wouldn’t have to worry about anything,” says Gallostra. “For 1 week a year, the families didn’t have to worry about therapies, administering medications, food, nothing.” 

 With the assistance of the volunteers, VACC Camp was able to provide experiences for the children that would have been nearly impossible elsewhere, like getting a ventilator-dependent child into a swimming pool for the first time. 

A child at VACC Camp swimming in the pool, spring 2017. Photo by Dan Perez Film Maker, provided by VACC Camp.

“To see the pictures of these children with their tracheostomies on a ventilator floating in a pool…you saw that and just had to smile or laugh. It was such a joyful picture,” says Dr. McCaffree. “I will always remember that, not just because it was our first granting year, but because it was such a great project.” 

Five years later, Dr. Simpser was also awarded the CHEST Foundation 2003 Governors Community Service Award, which included a $7,500 grant for VACC Camp. Dr. Simpser passed away in 2017, but his legacy lives on through the camp which, 30 years later, is still operational. In its 30 years, VACC Camp has hosted more than 180 families for life-changing vacation experiences. 

To Dr. McCaffree, awarding grants to projects like VACC Camp was intended to applaud CHEST member efforts and to be aspirational for others. 

“The community grants we awarded were two-fold. Number one was to recognize our members for the projects they were involved in within their communities. And number two was to highlight these projects so that if another member wanted to replicate the project within their community, they would have a resource to go to.” 

Today, the foundation is proud to have awarded $12 million in grants that have impacted lives worldwide over the past 25 years. Continuing this legacy, the foundation looks forward to awarding grants that advance lung health for the next 25 years and beyond. 

Support initiatives like VACC Camp by donating to the CHEST Foundation