My name is Gwen and one of my life’s blessings was that of being the wife of a firefighter. The pride and passion for his thirty-four year career of active duty was a reflection of which I am today, and behind the scenes, was as much my career as it wa …
My name is Gwen and one of my life’s blessings was that of being the wife of a firefighter. The pride and passion for his thirty-four year career of active duty was a reflection of which I am today, and behind the scenes, was as much my career as it was for Lt. William ‘Bill’ Linski. Thirty-four years of revolving shift work, preparing lunches and ironing shirts (yes, we actually did this!), unfinished dinners, 3:00 a.m. alarms, the empty chair at special occasions, the stench of smoke embedded uniforms, tears and pain over the loss of precious lives, sirens and flashing lights, pacing, waiting and the worry that intensified with every leaping flame. Miraculously, all this vanishes as the night shift turns to day and the cries of “daddies home!” turns into exciting stories of how they ‘knocked that fire down’, or ‘never turned a wheel’. The kids loved the stories and would laugh when he would tell them how he and his team of brothers would turn into human icicles and had to be stacked like cords of wood on the ride back to the hall where they were hosed down with warm water to thaw them out (a prairie winter hazard). There was even a time while changing ambulance drivers on the side of the highway ended up with him being left behind….but that is another story.
Growing up with a firefighter dad was always an adventure. These were the kids who got to sit in the assortment of fire trucks and sound the horns, parading around in turnout gear and dad’s boots while visiting the hall. Stories, the pride and yes, even the passion continued to flow as it filled nine years of retirement from active duty.
However, there is one story that is told that is embedded deep within my soul. It is the story of a thirty-two-year-old firefighter with seven years service and his twenty-eight year-old wife. Following the birth of their first born, they experienced a miscarriage and a full term stillborn baby boy. On March 8th, 1972, their four-year-old son, finally got to hold his brand new baby sister. Tragically, only eight days later, on the 15th of March, unbeknown to them, a natural gas line broke below the street outside their home; the frozen ground filtering out the telltale odor. On that particular morning, while attempting to do a load of laundry, a spark from a light switch created a flash fire around the electrical panel and the floor joists above the washer, spreading the length of the basement. With the children safely secured, a call to 911, the mom, with the help of a friend put out the flashing fire. This action brought in the firefighters as well as the gas company of which had them puzzled but, left with little concern for their safety, as it appeared that no further action was needed; they would check again the following day. The residue from the extinguisher remained; perhaps this new mother overreacted!
Accepting an invitation for dinner, the family locked the doors and enjoyed a relaxing evening with friends. Returning home three hours later, this exhausted family went about the nightly routine of preparing for bed. Coming off night shift, the dad was soon fast asleep. Mom nursed the baby and then prior to turning in, chose to return to the living room and finish a cigarette. Upon striking the match the flame appeared to flare up, and then, without warning, the air exploded, turning the house into a fiery infernal….a living hell.
The children died from heat and smoke inhalation and both parents were severely burnt with extensive 2nd and 3rd degree burns. Months of hospitalization; physical therapy, treatments and endless follow-up appointments; not to mention the legal battles.
That tragic story was our story that began on March 16th, 1972. This was and always will be the creator of who I am today. The choice to give up and to be with our children would have been so easy. The choice to live took all the strength and courage that one could possess and it has taken a life time to ride through the ripple effects of that eventful day.
Out of the ashes, many blessings were bestowed upon us. One blessing was the gift of adoption of a beautiful baby girl and the ability to have yet one more child, a son. Our lives were richly blessed and the scars and the pain of that particular journey have softened but the memories are vivid when one chooses to revisit yesteryear.
They say that I was burnt and Bill was baked which resulted in a different depth of burns. I believe that 70% of my body was burnt with various degrees of 2nd and 3rd burns. My head, face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands and legs. I was engulfed in the actually flames and was able to roll my way out of the house. Once the vapors of the gas burnt off then all went black seconds before the next explosion. Bill took the brunt of the heat and collapsed at the back landing. Our neighbour, attempting to enter the house only saw ‘something’ on the stairs, which in fact was Bill’s foot and managed to pull him to safety. I, in the meantime, was rolling in the snow, and then attempted to assist with saving my babies. Re-entering the explosive inferno was not humanly possible! Screaming for help to ‘save my babies’ and unable to do anything but watch the flames remains embedded in my soul.
In those days, much as it is today, debriding took place in the burn tanks; a torture chamber that no one wants to ever experience. Lathered in ointment and mummified in yards and yards of sterile gauze, donor sites, skin grafting and the healing process was excruciating. Once healed to a satisfactory degree we were sent home to the stares and whispers. Physiotherapy was limited and emotional support non-existent. Programs such as New Beginnings, The Future Is Mine and The Compassionate Friends (a self-help organization for bereaved parents) were yet to be born. Picking up the pieces; dealing with the trauma and our new identity and the expectation to ‘move on’ nearly destroyed us but we were survivors by choice.
It is with an aching heart that I write this profile. Occupational hazards accelerated impending health issues. Undiagnosed diabetes, COPD, renal failure, home dialysis and the ripple effect of these medical issues was ongoing. Diabetes raised its ugly head and then the amputations began and now the challenge of living as a double amputee.
On December 15th, 2007, Bill danced across the rainbows leaving us with a profound legacy of courage and Brotherhood. Escorted by his beloved fleet of emergency vehicles flanked by an honour guard of firefighters, he was laid to rest in the Municipal Cemetery in Brandon, MB on December 21st, 2007. He was only 4’8” in height when he died but he was one of the tallest men that I had ever met. It was an honour to have shared forty-three years of married life with him.
As this chapter of my life came to rest, another one opened filling my soul with wonderment and excitement of all the possibilities that lay ahead within the realms of my two greatest passions…The Compassionate Friends and The Future Is Mine Program! Coming full circle, first with the MB Burn Survivors in 2004 and upon moving to BC, becoming a member of the BCPFF New Beginnings program. Taking on the position as a BC rep in 2008 and my role with TCF became an emotional challenge. I was struggling with my ‘widow’ identity and as a choice had to be made, I chose to stay in my comfort zone with TCF; promising myself that one day I would return.
On December 12th, 2012 at 12:00 noon, I married my new best friend, David Dulmage of Nanaimo, BC. My second family, are now adults with successful careers and have given me two adorable grandchildren. David has been welcomed with open arms by the family and life is a treasured gift of love, light and remembrance. Coming full circle, I am thrilled to be back on board supporting burn survivors in whatever capacity needed. I have officially retired from TCF and so now, it is time to keep that promise.
My name is Stasi Manser. On December 5th, 1969 I woke very early to the sound of my 9-month-old baby sister wanting to be fed her morning bottle. I got up and decided that rather than waking my mom I would prepare the bottle for her myself. While the m …
My name is Stasi Manser.
On December 5th, 1969 I woke very early to the sound of my 9-month-old baby sister wanting to be fed her morning bottle. I got up and decided that rather than waking my mom I would prepare the bottle for her myself. While the milk was heating it seemed like a good idea to also sneak in a cup of hot cocoa for myself so I pulled a chair closer to the stove to climb up and reach the cocoa powder out of the cupboard above. I was wearing a nightgown which caught in the flame under the heating pot of milk. I knew I was in trouble and tried to put the fire out myself before calling for help. My mother heard my calls and came quickly to find most of my clothing in flames. She used a blanket to roll me on the floor and extinguish the fire.
I was taken to two southern Alberta hospitals both unequipped to help me. I had suffered 3rd, 4th and 5th degree burns to over 90% of my body. I was finally transferred to Foothills Hospital in Calgary, AB. – there was no burn unit and I was admitted to the maternity ward and isolated to combat the risks of infection. The consensus amongst the many medical staff overseeing my care was that there was no possible way for me to recover and I would not be able to survive the injuries I had sustained.
Our family was devastated, however, knowing I was a strong spirited child they remained faithful that I would survive. My mother insisted the Doctors continue to keep me alive. The initial care plan was to try to keep me still, comfortable and minimize any risk for infection. I had very little undamaged skin of my own and skin grafts using cadaver tissue were unsuccessful. The lead plastic surgeon in my care team went away to a conference of plastic surgeons almost two months after the accident , advising my family to prepare themselves – I was not strong enough to continue to survive.
Upon his return, despite the fact my weight had dropped from 49 lbs. to 19 lbs., I demonstrated my progress by getting up and walking around my bed. It became apparent that there needed to be an action plan for my recovery!
I was eventually transferred to Alberta Children’s Hospital for rehabilitation. I needed to learn to walk again on my own and they started skin grafting with what little tissue remained. One year and 11 days after the accident I was discharged from hospital and finally able to join my Mother and three younger siblings at home again.
In the early years after my accident, treatment options for me were limited and I travelled on four occasions to the Shriners Burn Institute in Boston, MA to undergo numerous reconstructive surgeries over a four-year period. The travelling was difficult on our family and I was away for extended periods. As I grew, my scars would tear during growth spurts and I underwent countless surgeries to help ease the discomfort. We battled ongoing challenges with reconstruction of my face, neck, arms and legs due to infection and limited availability of healthy tissues for grafting. Eventually they could help me closer to home and I began receiving treatment in Lethbridge and Calgary over the next 20 years.
Life has not been without challenges or struggle to feel accepted. Given my age at the time of my accident the Doctors felt that I could grow up as a ‘normal’ child. I had many wonderful friendships and a busy life filled with a great deal of love and support from my family and the communities we lived in. Looking back, the most difficult and challenging aspect of my recovery was an unknown sense of isolation and fear of acceptance. I rarely encountered others who had been injured as I had been. Having faced many difficult situations around “fitting in” throughout my childhood, teenage years and early adult life, I grew up determined that would not be treated as a person with a disability or handicap. I have had a full life with a successful career and I have been blessed with two amazing children of my own.
In 2012 I contacted the BCPFF Burn Fund for information, wanting to find support but not knowing what may be available for long term survivors. Through that phone call I was immediately included as a member of the Future Is Mine Adult Burn Survivors Community. This connection has brought so much joy and inspiration to my life: I have attended 2 conferences dedicated to burn survival, healing, treatment options and building community; I have also attended peer support meetings and social events bringing me closer to others.
The BCPFF Burn Fund and the Adult Burn Survivors Community has provided me with a safe environment while connecting me to others that have had similar experiences and relate to the challenges I faced throughout my life. This community of support and empathy has made an indescribable difference to my own healing and has had a profound impact on my life choices. Most importantly, I have come to be able to accept and fully embrace how my experience can benefit others which has helped me to realize my own healing; after so many years! Through the wonderful support of this community, I will continue to thrive, learn and grow personally.
My name is Michella Grippo. I was severely burned three times in total. Below is a picture of my last burn which occurred 2 weeks after a burn I received on my leg from a go-karting accident. The last time I had been burned it was August of 2009 and …
My name is Michella Grippo. I was severely burned three times in total. Below is a picture of my last burn which occurred 2 weeks after a burn I received on my leg from a go-karting accident.
The last time I had been burned it was August of 2009 and I would be going in to my grade 7 year at a new school. I thought it was the end of the world and my life would be over. Not only would I be the new kid, but I’d be that freak whose arm had to be all wrapped up because of what had happened.
I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me, I thought I must have done something really bad to deserve this and it wasn’t fair. What I didn’t know was being burned was honestly one of the best things that happened to me. I had a story no one else had and later would develop a family at Burn Camp no one else would have. I just graduated from the Burn Camp this past year and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity I was given with them. Before going to Burn Camp I hated the stares and constant questions about “what was on my arm.” The camp taught me it’s an amazing thing to be different and it’s ok to have these scars. I’m not a freak and I’m not alone. I’m a survivor and I couldn’t be more proud of that.
Thanks to the amazing firefighters, nurses and volunteers I grew as an individual and became a success story. My heart will always be with those of the Burn Fund, Burn Camp and the survivors. We are not freaks or different or whatever people want to say about us, we are survivors and a lot of us are heroes.
Thank you to the entire Burn Fund Organization.
If you’re reading this…remember, it’s ok to be different,
it’s better to have a story than nothing.
In January of 1998, a happy beautiful six year old danced around her living room, mouthing the words to “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” from the movie Hercules. She loved the way her dress ¾ well, her aunt’s old skirt with arm holes cut into it ¾ twirled as …
In January of 1998, a happy beautiful six year old danced around her living room, mouthing the words to “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” from the movie Hercules. She loved the way her dress ¾ well, her aunt’s old skirt with arm holes cut into it ¾ twirled as she did. It was such a perfect setting: dark living room lit with a crackling fire, and Disney music. As the song ended, she sat in front of the fireplace, and dramatically flipped her dress back. The next thing she knew, she was on fire. She screamed, and ran in circles around her living room. “Daddy!” she cried. Her dad came racing into the room to find his daughter on fire. He grabbed a towel and hit out the flames, but it was too late. “Daddy, just call the ambulance,” she said. Then everything went black.
That little girl was me.
My name is Jenny Therrien, and at age six, I was burned – first, second, and third degree to my back and right arm, making up 30% of my body. I was in a coma, and then spent over a month in the hospital. My accident not only left physical scarring, but also emotional.
For the past 16 years I have attended BC Burn Camp – both as a camper, and for the last five years, a volunteer counsellor. It happens annually, for six days, and brings together children from all over British Columbia to an environment where there is an immeasurable amount of love and support: nobody is judging, and nobody stares. As a child, I had to recover from the physical trauma, however as a teenager, it was about the emotional trauma, and my scars became a source for a lot of self-hatred. Burn Camp was my sanctuary, and the connections I made carried me through the next 359 days to follow. At 17, I wrote a note on the public forum known as Facebook, saying this about camp and how it changed my life:
“In those six days, whatever was taken from me during my accident is replenished. For every year I attend camp, I endure an evolution: I find little pieces of myself that I thought I had lost – confidence, for the most part. With each year that passes, my story changes: I am no longer a burn victim. I am a burn survivor.”
Now as a counsellor, to be able to share in these kids’ journeys of self-acceptance and healing is an honour and blessing, especially when I’m alongside some of the most incredible, selfless and dedicated fire fighters, nurses, and volunteers. Children are such a light, and it’s truly grounding and inspiring to watch their magic flourish even after they’ve experienced immeasurable amounts of pain and suffering.
This camp, and this organisation, changes lives, and helps the campers realize that their scars are a sign of beauty and strength in a world which glorifies perfection. It definitely did so for me.
Living Proof – I’m a Survivor. In the spring of 2012 I was severely injured with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. It was the most painful and traumatic experience of my life. I had a lot of love and support from my family and friends but the connection to m …
Living Proof – I’m a Survivor.
In the spring of 2012 I was severely injured with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. It was the most painful and traumatic experience of my life. I had a lot of love and support from my family and friends but the connection to my new reality started when I was introduced to The Future is Mine group. The British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund makes the program available to all survivors who reside in BC. It’s a unique and innovative Adult Burn Survivor Program available to patients newly discharged as well as long time survivors. At the time I was released from the Vancouver General Hospital Burn Unit and was starting the physical and emotional healing process, I was extremely depressed and felt that giving up was my best option. Ann Coombs the Program Director is amazingly devoted to bringing burn survivors together. She gave me access to this community and its culture when I received the New Beginning resource book and DVD filled with burn survivor stories. These stories brought me from a place of feeling sorry for myself to a place of hope and strength. Their stories echoed my thoughts, fears and apprehensions because they truly knew what I was going through.
Now that I am fully healed I get to enjoy what I consider the most exciting part of my culture, which is the Activities Schedule. It’s an inclusive schedule provided for spring/summer and fall/winter, covering a wide range of activities from spa days, hikes, theatre nights and family days. All activities remain focused on positive sharing and support within our community. I have enjoyed these activities, and have even drawn the winner for the first Home Town Heroes Lottery. I have visited the Biodiversity Museum and attended the Kids Summer Camp Kickoff. I was awarded a bursary for my textbooks from the BCPFF Burn Fund for which I am very grateful. Through our community sponsors I am fortunate to enjoy the free weekly massages at the Vancouver College of Massage. We also have a private FACEBOOK page for members to exchange ideas, experiences and support. With over 100 members, it’s amazing to post an issue and have so many people respond with care and understanding.
In closing the values of caring and kindness towards others that I grew up with in my family was lost on me in my adult life. The Future is Mine family has brought those values back into my heart because of the unconditional love and kindness that I received in abundance. This experience will assist me in my counseling career. I will be able to see my client for the human being that they are and not for any negative external issues or baggage that they may bring to the sessions. I’ve learned how valuable kindness from a total stranger can positively affect one’s life. I’m living proof.
BEAUTY FROM THE ASHES – I had an amazing childhood. I grew up in a small town in Alberta with my parents and two siblings. Money was tight, but I didn’t know it at the time. We would go swimming every Saturday evening, then walk home in our pajamas and …
BEAUTY FROM THE ASHES – I had an amazing childhood. I grew up in a small town in Alberta with my parents and two siblings. Money was tight, but I didn’t know it at the time. We would go swimming every Saturday evening, then walk home in our pajamas and eat apples before going to bed. I remember playing princess with my sister and arguing over who would have the privilege of being the slave. We have countless pictures of us sitting inside dresser drawers, paddling our ships with spatulas; pretending to be chefs while wearing our underwear on our heads; flying kites at Buffalo Jump; wrestling with my dad on the lawn. I was raised on Hockey Night in Canada and caragana blossoms.
There is very little I remember about May of 1990 or the months that followed. I was four at the time. I used to sit on the top of the toilet while brushing my teeth, but on this particular evening I didn’t notice the lit candle. I leaned back into it, and the flames found a footing in my cotton pajamas and long hair. My six-year-old sister started screaming, but I didn’t notice the flames until they snaked along the underside of my upraised arm, resulting in third-degree burns that left angry scars on two-thirds of my back and my right arm. Panic. Screaming. Running around the house looking for my parents. Strange as it may seem, the décor of my parent’s bathroom remains seared in my memory when the rest of my experience is a blur. The rest comes in snatches: eating orange Popsicles, watching Bambi and Cinderella, the sting after the skin grafts surgery, listening to my dad read to me for hours on end, making butterfly magnets in the hospital playroom, screaming and scrambling to get out of the tub during the debriding process, the large aquarium in the doctor’s waiting room, the smell of the moisturizing cream.
In the years following my burn, I recall camping out on the lawn in massive cardboard boxes. I remember my dad bringing home a Barbie that he had found on the side of the road – the only one I ever owned. My sister and I cut off all her hair, dyed her blue with what was supposedly washable marker, and affectionately dubbed her “Welfare Barbie”. There were still days of skating in our frozen backyard, playing hockey in the driveway, and catching caterpillars in the tree house.
In many ways, my burn was the beginning, but it was also the middle.
When speaking to my dad the other day, I mentioned that if I could redo my life over again and specifically choose each of the moments I would like to include, my burn would be one of them. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and commented, “I’m not sure you would. There are hundreds of hours you don’t remember.” Maybe I’m just stubborn, but I still believe I would. My burn acted as a catalyst for so many experiences that have shaped my goals, my dreams, and my character.
Like so many others have mentioned before me, my burn made me more mature than my age would dictate. With the understanding of pain comes a greater sense of compassion. Somewhere along the line I realized that just as I can conceal my scars if I choose to, other people have hidden hurts as well, which means that I need to listen and know the whole story before I pass judgment. Furthermore, I’ve had the privilege of watching my parents’ relationship thrive over the years. They had three children between the ages of three and six, financial concerns, and an injured child – each serious stressors to any marriage. My parents fought to let these difficulties draw them closer together, and their commitment and integrity is a model of how I desire my own relationships to be.
I’ve always believed in a God who gives beauty for ashes, and I’ve always felt like there was some special reason why I was burned. I think I’ve found it. This is my fourth year counseling at burn camp, and I feel like I was burned nineteen years ago for the campers I have worked with, that include Maggie and Julia and Amanda. I’ve had the incredible blessing of being a part of their healing as they also are a part of mine. I don’t know how to explain it, but I believe my burn experience has played a role in my desire to serve through Habitat for Humanity and Hurricane Katrina relief, as well as in homeless shelters in Chicago and orphanages in Guatemala. It’s one of the reasons I chose to become a teacher. It’s my life and I’m learning to live it the best I know how.
In A Split Second – Without warning, on April 24, 2003 our family’s journey in life was changed forever. This day started out as any other day, with me prepping for meals and assisting the head cook at a seniors care facility. We were about to have our …
In A Split Second – Without warning, on April 24, 2003 our family’s journey in life was changed forever.
This day started out as any other day, with me prepping for meals and assisting the head cook at a seniors care facility. We were about to have our lunch break, when I noticed a small pot on the stove that had grey smoke coming from it, so I decided to check out what was causing the smoke. While looking into the pot, I noticed the bottom was black, and I figured that whatever had been cooking in it was burned, so I turn off the burner and took the pot to the dish pit to get it washed. On my way over to the sink, a flame appeared from the pot, and I said “Oh my gosh!” and had only taken two steps when the explosion happened. The pot dropped out of my hand, crashing to the floor. All I could feel was a burning pain to my arm, and the smell of flesh and hair burning along. It all happened in a split second!
I remember my fellow co-workers screaming and crying while I called out to try and find out what had just happened. There had been margarine at the bottom of the pot, which formed an invisible layer, so when I took a step I broke the seal, causing it to explode all over my face, my arm and areas on my upper body.
My co-worker steered me to the dish pit to spray cold water over my head, not knowing it was hot water coming out first, which caused even more pain. Wet cloths were put over my head to cool me down. I was not able to see, and combined with smelling my burning flesh and hair, feeling the pain on my wrist and chilled by soaking wet clothes, this was a moment that I would not easily be able to forget.
It seemed like an eternity before the paramedics came. When they arrived, I had the feeling I was in good hands and everything was going to be okay. I barely remember the many questions asked, none of which I was able to answer. The ambulance team also wanted me to remove my clothes because of the burn. At that point, the funny thing I said in my state of shock was: “You just want to see a wet t-shirt contest!”
We were down in the basement area at that time, and I was more concerned about whether or not my male coworkers were there, as I certainly did not want to be seen with no clothes on. The paramedics were very kind to me and said they would cover me up while I removed my clothing. I think back now and chuckle at how sensitive I was about my body being on display in front of my co-workers and not realizing how serious my burn was.
I went to the hospital with one of my coworkers who kindly stayed with me. While in the hospital, the nurses were so comforting and finally were able to reach my husband whose pager was off at the time of my accident. My husband is a bit of a joker, and when he saw me, I remember him saying, “I guess I don’t have to ask you how your day went!” Just hearing his voice and holding his hand made me feel safe. This is a husband who stands by his family no matter how difficult the times are.
I still didn’t realize how serious the injury was, being far more concerned about my husband coaching our sons’ first soccer game, and what would happen to them with us not being there. As the mother of two wonderfully brave boys, it is funny how you still try to be the caring mom and worry about everyone else, not realizing that you are the one in need of help.
The doctors made the decision that I should be taken to the Burn Unit at Vancouver General Hospital, where they had more experienced burn trauma doctors on hand to deal with my facial burns. I was on the Burn Unit for a long 20 days, while having grafts to my face and my arm, all the while under the very best of care.
The nurses couldn’t believe how determined I was to get busy and heal. I was always trying to push myself to do more because I knew I had to get back to my family in Kelowna. All burn survivors know that healing does not come easily! Every day, you have to jump hurdles – and do so – because we are determined and fortunate to be alive. I think of all the amazing people I have met through this accident.
This experience has made me look at life in a more caring way. I feel others’ pain more, and certainly have become more sensitive, given the many skin grafts, and the discomfort of wearing Jobst garments. A heartfelt memory will be the words of our boys saying, “Mommy why did you get burned? We wish this hadn’t happened to you”. The journey also included a lot of counseling to deal with my inner self-confidence, and to help me move through even the smallest challenge.
I now look at myself in the mirror and like what I see. I am so grateful for all the wonderful support I was given by so many special people, the caregivers, and my husband’s parents who were guardian angels through this difficult time. With a new career as a care aid in a seniors facility, I enjoy going to work each and every day. Our family is now back on track living life and appreciating what we have, that could have been lost forever – all in a split second.
Thanks to all the burn survivors who shared their stories and feelings, through New Beginnings, the DVD “Survivors Share Their Stories”, and now on the Burn Fund website. It is a gift to know that we are not alone in dealing with our emotions, and there is always someone with a caring ear. A big thank you to THE FUTURE IS MINE for the wonderful events that connect this community, especially the “Spa Day” which made me feel like a million dollars.
We all are survivors in some way or another, and I am proud of how well I am dealing with my life today.
Wishing each and every one of you a lifetime filled with cherished moments!
The Power of Positive Thinking – My name is Sharad Mohan, and my story starts in the summer of 2003. I was 20 years old, a 3rd year student at UBC, with a love for the party life. Driving home late one Friday, I recall thinking how great my life was, a …
The Power of Positive Thinking – My name is Sharad Mohan, and my story starts in the summer of 2003. I was 20 years old, a 3rd year student at UBC, with a love for the party life.
Driving home late one Friday, I recall thinking how great my life was, and little did I know how my life was about to be changed! The next morning, I heard my sister, who then burst into my room yelling, “Sharad the kitchen’s on fire!” I jumped out of bed, and ran to the kitchen. There was a pot on the stove with a flame rising about 3 feet high. I grabbed it with my bare hands, and ran out of the kitchen throwing the pot into the backyard.
Job well done I thought, until I noticed my entire back was in flames – I was wearing a cotton t-shirt and shorts. I screamed and ran back into the kitchen and dropped and rolled. It was then I realized that when they say “stop, drop, and roll”, it’s more of a drop, roll around like crazy, with a few kicks and screams in there as well. After what felt like an eternity, even though it was probably just about 10 – 15 seconds, the flames were finally out.
I was in a state of shock. My sister immediately called 911 even though I told her not to as I was “fine”. Then I looked down at my body, and realized, that not all was fine. My right arm was completely white, and had skin hanging from it. The nails of my right hand were gone. Most of my shirt had burnt off and my shorts were hanging on a thread. My back had skin hanging off it, and strangely enough through all of this I felt absolutely no pain due to the shock.
The ambulance and the fire engine came in less than 2 minutes. I recall walking out of my house, and walking down the driveway with my arms out. The paramedics poured water all over me, and wrapped me like a mummy. During our ride to Lions Gate Hospital I kept them entertained by talking about the Vancouver Canucks, and other hockey news in general. I knew something was very wrong, but had to overcome fear through strong positive energy.
When I arrived at Lions Gate Hospital, I was rushed into the ER, and remember both my parents were there. I was surrounded by nurses and a doctor, and within a few minutes the consensus was that I needed to be rushed to VGH. I was wheeled out of ER and recall saying “Don’t worry about me … I’ll be fine”, as wanted to have a calming effect on my parents.
When I arrived at VGH I asked the doctor “Could I possibly die from this” and he looked at me and said, “Yes”. It is from here, my journey began. It was a long fight upwards, but one which tested my inner strength, and has made me today stronger than I ever could be had I not experienced this trauma.
I was in bed for 2 months, during which time I had three surgeries for skin grafts, one procedure for a blood clot, and a kidney infection. I had third degree burns on my entire right arm, most of my back, the back of my neck and head. I had 2nd degree burns on my left forearm, and both my legs. My donor sites were my legs and my stomach. The first surgery was probably the scariest as the surgeons had used skin off my stomach for my grafting surgery, and placed gauze on it. So when I woke up, I recall feeling my stomach and feeling a scaly substance and I freaked out. I thought it was my skin! Luckily it wasn’t. The first burn bath was a horrible experience as well, as it was so painful being transferred from my bed to the shower room.
During those two months in VGH, the surgeons, the nurses, and the nutritionists were simply amazing. Before each surgery I was told that it came with risks, because if the grafts didn’t hold, then they’d have to amputate that part of the body. I simply took each warning with a grain of salt, and thought about the best case scenario. Not once did I get worried or fear the surgery, as I knew that the body needs every ounce of strength to fight, and negative energy would only weaken the drive to fight. Hence the positive thoughts, the willingness to keep on fighting, and the excitement of envisioning what lay ahead of me, kept me going. My Mom always said that I would be driving the new car we had just bought within months. At the time, it did seem crazy, but that’s the exact kind of drive I needed to keep going forward. I did have one breakdown however – I recall being in my bed, and hearing a Beyonce song on the radio, and that was probably the first time I cried during the whole ordeal. The main reason being, at that point, I didn’t think I would ever be able to have a social life again, such as being able to go to a nightclub with friends.
In addition to my positive energy, one of the other main reasons I was able to fight the battle was due to the people around me. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by family and great friends. My Mom was by my side every single day and night, and knowing that she was there during the nightmares when I was in pain, was a gift. I also had 3 of my aunts come to town and take care of me. Friends came in to visit and make me laugh, while one in particular visited me three times a week to keep me up to date with my Math lectures (I took a Math course at UBC to keep myself challenged). My dad was great as well, as he persisted in getting me to write every single day, which kept my fingers from webbing over and locking up. As annoying as it was at the time, I look back now, and am so glad that he kept pushing me to write, write, and write.
Now I was ready for my occupational and physical therapy – having to learn how to walk again, and get my motor skills back. There were the frustrations of picking up a pencil and seeing myself weighing a mere 100lbs (I was 200 lbs pre-accident). Also having to wear pressure garments from head to toe 24 hours a day, but if it weren’t for the garments, my recovery would not have been nearly as successful as it has been.
This is my biggest recommendation to a recent burn survivor – Wear the garments no matter how uncomfortable or itchy they may feel, as it pays off in the long run!
With determination and lots of hard work, after a few months I was back into the swing of things. Writing my final exam at UBC, all bandaged up, and passing, along with driving the new car. The following spring, I applied for jobs, and even though I had scars and not in the best physical state, I landed a job in a client-facing role as a Business Analyst! I had set myself goals, and was determined to hit each and every one of them ~ and I did!
By going through this experience, I have had the opportunity of really believing in the power of positive energy by putting it to the ultimate test. I am now very involved with the BCPFF Burn Fund/The Future Is Mine, and as an Ambassador I am there for other recent burn survivors so that they can see that there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel.
I have been made a much stronger person through having a very positive attitude. I do believe that everything in life happens for a reason, and while I will live the rest of my life with visible scars, I am fortunate enough to look at life from multiple angles today; more angles than I would have had I not had the opportunity to experience this journey with a positive attitude.
Having Faith Is The Healing Process – The year of 2002 was when everything happened to me: I was married to my wonderful husband, gave birth to my beautiful son, graduated from College with a Marketing Management Diploma and life seemed perfect. Until …
Having Faith Is The Healing Process – The year of 2002 was when everything happened to me: I was married to my wonderful husband, gave birth to my beautiful son, graduated from College with a Marketing Management Diploma and life seemed perfect.
Until the summer of June 2002 we lived at my parents’ house. One evening my brother-in-law and his girlfriend stopped by, so my husband decided to cook dinner. He began with some oil in the saucepan on the stove and then turned to prepare what was going in the pot.
All of a sudden out the side of my eye I saw a fire on the stove. Immediately I jumped up and ran to the stove to put the fire out. I frantically looked for the baking soda, but grabbed a handful of flour instead, to throw on top of the fire. Within seconds the fire shot up to the ceiling directly in front of my face.
Afraid I might burn my parent’s house, I grabbed the saucepan with my left hand and tried to bring it outside, but since the flame was so high and hot, the oil spilled out of the saucepan ~ and I slipped. The oil poured all over my left hand and wrist so I instantly threw the pan onto the kitchen floor and ran to the washroom to put cold water over my hand.
As I was staring at my hand I kept on asking will my hand be okay? Will it look the same? I asked about my son, to be told that the visiting girlfriend was also burned on her legs due to the pan hitting the floor when she stood up to carry my son away from the oil.
The fire fighters arrived and came in to see me in the washroom, talking me through all the way so I didn’t faint or go into shock, when they discovered my legs were also burned so poured water on my legs to stop the burning. The paramedics arrived and took me to Royal Columbian Hospital, but I was not immediately admitted so remained covered in a sterile blanket and in shock for an hour, with my supportive husband by my side.
As the Royal Columbian didn’t have any beds I had to be sent home and this is where the horrific story of ‘hospital jumping” begins. I was told to see a surgeon at Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody the next day. This surgeon looked at my hand and said he could not do surgery for a week in spite of the serious degree of the burn! My family who were with me feared the infection that might occur if my burns were not treated right away.
I was sent home again, to await the care of home care nurses who never came. Sadly, I was now not able to care for or hold and breastfeed my 2 month old son. The next day my mother, who was a nurse called St. Vincent’s Hospital and again the medical team cleaned my burns and I was sent home again. Now in desperation our family doctor was contacted and referred us to the VGH Burn Unit.
The next day we arrived at VGH ER and I was finally admitted to the one last bed in the Burn Unit.
I was at the Burn Unit for 2 weeks and the first week was terrifying as I was often alone unable to feed myself, as my husband or parents were caring for my son. The worst experience was my first bath. The feeling of cleaning of the scars was so painful as well as the pain of getting in and out of the wheelchair.
Some days there were obviously good when family and friends came to visit, but other times painful as the burning sensation got worse I had to call for morphine. I tried my best to stay away from drugs as I was still breast-feeding my son. But after a long and thoughtful decision I realized I too had to care for myself. So I decided to stop breast-feeding, as I needed drugs to relieve my pain. Surgery followed with skin grafting on my left hand and wrist as well as my left leg and parts of my right leg. With good results I was told that in a couple of days I was able to go home. Before leaving the OT explained about the importance of wearing pressure garments which is not easy in the beginning. Today, however I would say to ALL burn survivors that these pressure garments are very helpful and to wear them knowing the benefits!
Now, the mobility in my left hand is the same as it was before I got burned with the help of exercising the hand, and as my job requires me to use a keyboard. I believe that the healing of my scars turned out better than I expected because of being positive every day, giving thanks that I am alive and in faith.
Looking back at my recovery I never realized the importance of the help around me from the firefighters and paramedics at the scene, the nurses and doctors at the burn unit, small words of encouragement from family and friends but most of all the faith I found within myself. Looking back at everyone ~ these were the heroes to my recovery.
I have a beautiful family who I love very much and give me inspiration everyday. Today I have more value to life more than ever before. Never would I have imagined myself as someone to look up to or inspire. Given this experience I now have every faith that burn survivors can get through it regardless of their situation. It is a gift and joy to being part of the adult burn community; there are so many opportunities to share, for families to come together and enjoy our lives.
Now I am an Ambassador for the burn community, and support those similar to me and able talk to them to say “having faith in yourself is a part of the healing process”.
DON’T HIDE! – HEAD UP AND FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS – My name is Buffy Sherreitt and I recently celebrated my 36th birthday on Aug. 13th 2009. In 1978, I celebrated my fifth birthday in the old burn unit in VGH. On the morning of June 15th, 1978, my life was …
DON’T HIDE! – HEAD UP AND FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS – My name is Buffy Sherreitt and I recently celebrated my 36th birthday on Aug. 13th 2009. In 1978, I celebrated my fifth birthday in the old burn unit in VGH.
On the morning of June 15th, 1978, my life was to change in ways I could never have imagined. My parents had both worked late the night before, and were sleeping in. My 13-year-old sister Karla and my 7-year-old brother Ira had gotten up early, and were ready to leave for school just after 8 o’clock.
I remember walking down the stairs just as they were going out the door. “Aren’t you making me breakfast?” I asked. “No time, we’re late!” they yelled back. As I watched them walking past our kitchen window on their way to the school just across the street, I remember thinking, “OK then, I’ll make my own breakfast.”
For some reason, I decided I would make some Quaker Instant Porridge. I put some water in the kettle, set it on the front element but I was too small to turn it on. I got a chair up to the front of the stove, climbed up and reached over to turn the dial up to High.
Once the kettle was boiling, I moved it over to the side element and then got back on my chair to turn the red-hot element to Off. I guess I forgot I was only four and felt much older because I was wearing my big sister’s nightgown which hung down to the floor on me. I remember gathering the nightgown up in my left hand as I climbed on the chair again and leaned over the glowing element to reach the control dial. “Don’t drop the nightgown!” I thought to myself. I knew I was doing something that I probably shouldn’t.
As I stepped back down on the chair, I put out my left hand for balance and dropped the bottom of the nightgown right on the burner. That’s when everything went wrong. Instant flames. “MUM, DAD” I screamed. In probably 30 seconds, Dad was there, tore off his house-coat and wrapped me up in it, rolling me on the floor. Once the flames were out, I remember being in Mum’s arms as Dad sped us to the hospital.
Apparently we made the trip from 132nd Street to Surrey Memorial Hospital on 96th Street in barely five minutes, which probably means we ran red-lights and broke the speed limit! I remember overhearing a discussion about having to shave off my beautiful, long blonde hair and saying “No, No, No…” but apparently they didn’t listen to me. Later that day, after I was transferred to the Vancouver General Burn Unit, I remember being wheeled past my family and saying “Hi Grandma!”
My team of doctors then decided I would be put into an induced coma for ten days. Because my situation was so serious, I had a constant vigil nurse. When I finally woke up, I said to the on-duty nurse, “I think I burnt myself. Next time I’ll try to make toast!”
The nurse then called my mother and my grandma answered. They feared bad news. The nurse got my Mum on the phone and told her, “Someone wants to talk to you.” Mum thought my Doctor was going to give her the bad news. “Hi Mum, where are you?” I asked. She screamed and the race was on to visit me.
The next while is just a foggy blur consisting of several burn baths, the worst pain ever! I would get picked up in a kind of sling by a crane and lowered down into a big metal tub, where I was totally submersed. Then the staff scrubbed off all my old, dead skin. A total burn bath is something I wish nobody ever had to go through.
I knew I was getting better when I told my Dad I wanted a piano. The next day he showed up with a kid-size white baby grand. I was beyond happy!
Throughout July, the grafting process began. Because of the threat of infection, my movement was restricted via a roller-bed. The first move was to remove my feeding tube. I hated that.
By now, I was starting to get pumped up for my fifth birthday on August, 13th. The nurses prepared the big party room down the hall with balloons and my Uncle Barry still remembers how he drove all night long with the rest of my Dad’s band from Prince George, just to be there at 2:00 o’clock, Sunday afternoon. He even wrote me a poem which I have framed on my apartment wall. I’ll include it at the end of my story.
As I continued to improve, I set some goals for myself. I wanted a promotion from my boring, private room to a four-bed unit down the hall where there would be more “Action.” After all, now that I was five, I needed to know exactly what was going on!
Other goals were to stand-up, learn to walk, and wear my own clothes. One of my favorite pictures from back then has me in my red over-alls, red Peanut Tee-shirt and red and white slippers. Did I mention my favorite color is red? It still is.
Because nothing could be allowed to touch me, I lived in a tent-awning contraption, but at least now I was in a ward with people coming and going so I knew “who’s who in the zoo!” At this time I remember having awkward casts on for weeks when various grafts were done. When they would cut the plaster off I was always nervous about the blade cutting into my tummy. The machine was so loud to my five year old ears!
In pictures of those days, I looked like the Michilan Man, with my white bandages from head to toe, up to my chin. After being in bed for months, I now needed lots of physio as I learned to walk again. It was a huge adjustment to being upright for the first time.
I now discovered the all-time favorite place to be in my world. I even began taking my meals at the intersection in front of the nurse’s station and the elevator. From here I had a birds-eye view of who’s coming in and who’s going out…the crossroads of the action. The nurses basically allowed me to have my run of the place.
After six months, I developed a new perspective. While I saw everyone who came and left through the door, I now wanted to venture out to the other side of that door. I wanted to go home for Christmas. Without saying, it was my best one ever. I was spoiled rotten.
Fast forward to my Big Day Number Three. For my first day of school, I wore a full face mask and body pressure garment. It was a little hard at the beginning as some of the boys said mean things, but I guess they had never been exposed to someone like me and didn’t know how to react. But things got considerably better as they got to know me. Eventually I made lots of friends and people began to look past the bandages and were able to see me for who I really was.
As I grew, everything needed constant re-doing. This meant in and out of the hospital on a yearly basis for what I call my “maintenance and up-keep” surgeries. When I turned nine, I took ballet lessons and this was the best thing I ever did. It taught me proper posture, to keep my head up instead of down, which in turn gave me self-esteem and showed me the benefits of discipline, flexibility and having a good work ethic.
Because of the economic situation my family was in and because ballet school was so expensive, to get a rate reduction, I worked at the school. For several years I cleaned the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, washed floors, cleaned bathrooms and vacuumed the waiting area.
Only once did I ever cheat and sweep stuff under the big rug, and when caught by the owner it taught me a very good lesson…don’t be lazy, do the work! I was eventually hired on to teach ballet by that very same person.
Through my late teens and early twenties, I was employed around the Lower Mainland in several retail positions. As we used to say in one of them, “We’re living the Sport Chek Dream.”
Eventually I was allowed to follow my real dream of becoming a make-up artist.
In Grade Seven, when I was twelve, my big sister Karla had given me my first make-up palette. I was completely mesmerized by the magic transformations I could achieve. My mum even let me practice on her.
As my career progressed, this opened up a whole new world to me, allowing me to travel and work in Paris, Strasbourg, Milan, Toronto, Montreal and many others places.
I firmly believe that I would not be the happy person I am today without the daily, unwavering support of my mother who tells me every day that I am beautiful and can do anything I set my mind to. The rest of my family has also been incredibly supportive.
When I was still fairly new in ballet class, the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company announced they were holding auditions for the Nutcracker Suite to be held at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. My ballet teacher at the time told everyone in our group about the auditions except me. When my friends told me, I asked my teacher, “Why?”. “Your scars, dear.” she said. “What about them?” I asked. She told me that if I was going to try out anyway, at least I should wear a body leotard.
Instead I wore my favourite spaghetti straps, nailed the audition, got the position and danced for the two-week run as lead soldier, leading the crew out onto the stage every night for our encore bows. I guess the moral is…don’t hide when you’ve nothing to be ashamed of.
Today, I work as a make-up assistant for CTV and recently had the thrill of being involved with the 2010 Winter Olympics, making the medal winning athletes look good on their podium moments. All in all, with the good things I have in my life today, I consider myself a very lucky girl!
I would like to end my story with a poem that was written by my treasured Uncle Barry:
BUFFY’S FIFTH BIRTHDAY POEM
This is a story ‘bout my friend named Buffy,
Famous in Surrey as the neighbourhood tuffy,
Long blonde hair and big blue eyes
With a smile too big for a person her size.
Now a few months back ‘round the start of summer,
Bufferoonie got into a bit of a bummer,
Karla and Ira had split for class,
Dad was in the bedroom, patting Mom’s…cake.
Buff, like namesake, Ms. Saint Marie,
Has a mind of her own, both funny and free,
She heard a big rumble deep down in her belly,
That drowned out “Sesame Street” on the telly.
Into the kitchen young Buffy did bound,
Quite the little fox in her long nightgown,
Checking out her limited choice of snacks,
Grocery shopping, Mom’s been lax.
Buff thought maybe she’d boil some water,
But knew she’d need the stove on hotter.
She climbed a chair so she could reach,
But things got hotter than “Pacheena Beach.”
So today Buffalo woman just turned five,
And knows we love her under all this jive.
Next time she feels like having a roast,
Maybe she’d better just settle for toast!
LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST – Whenever you really think your life is hard, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you just need to look at someone else who has really had a challenge, and then your life seems so much easier. For a while, I was that pers …
LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST – Whenever you really think your life is hard, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you just need to look at someone else who has really had a challenge, and then your life seems so much easier. For a while, I was that person you would look at.
In 1990 I had a series of accidents. It started in February when I fell into a creek ditch while snowboarding. I nearly severed my nose from my face. Multiple stitches later and a broken nose sewed back on, I was on my way.
In the middle of April, the helicopter I’m in crashes, and I suffer severe burns to my face, neck and wrist. The fate of my nose and left ear was questionable. I spent a week in the ICU and a month in the burn unit in Calgary. Over the next four years I go through numerous full facial skin grafts to put me back together again.
October comes around and I fall off a trampoline and shatter both elbows and break my wrist. Did I mention there were 500 people watching?
On Halloween I see a very skinny guy wearing a full plastic face mask, burns all over his neck and face, both arms are in slings, a cast on one wrist, and he can’t even wipe his own butt! Then I realize that I’m looking in the mirror. It’s Me! And, it’s not a costume! If ever there was a time to feel sorry for myself, that was it. Fortunately I didn’t want to and my friends and family wouldn’t let me.
I was one of the lucky ones. Why you ask? Firstly I was still alive. Some of my friends were not. Secondly, I have the best friends and family anyone could ever ask for.
I wore that plastic facemask for the next four years of my life. All day. Every Day. If that doesn’t feel like a lifetime I don’t know what would. The challenges I faced were difficult and relentless. People stared at me, asked me the same question about what happened, and lots of people treated me like I had the plague and it was contagious.
While I was wearing that mask, my friends always included me in the things they did, never once thinking to leave me out because I was wearing a plastic mask. They once told me that, sure, I had been burnt, but it still didn’t change the fact that I was going surfing with them. I was wearing a full head pressure garment to surf, so I looked like a bank robber sitting on a surfboard, and nobody would surf near me. It was great. I got to catch any wave I wanted.
I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me, or tell me how hard it must be. I knew that first hand. But, I also knew that sitting around and dwelling on my situation would never help me get better. If I wanted to continue with my life, then I was the only one who could do it. I surrounded myself with people and friends who wanted me to get better.
Doctors helped, but after they were done with their cutting and pasting, it was time to heal on my own. I spent hundred of hours imagining and visualizing all the skin on my ears re-growing, and for my nose to heal from its charred burnt-solid state. All the doctors told me I would lose my nose and ear, and they would build me new ones. I was furious with them since they didn’t believe I could heal myself, and told them I would just keep my own. It was much easier. By the way, I still have my nose and ear.
I realized one thing while I was healing, and that was the power of your own mind. I now know that if you think you can, you can!
I decided that I would be responsible for what I could do, and that being burnt was just a learning experience in my life, and that my life was going to continue just as it was before. By the age of twenty, I had more experience healing than most people would learn in a lifetime.
Sure my life has had a few a few ups and downs along the way, but I like what I am, who I am, and who I have become. I’ve learned how to read people by how they talk to me and how they look at me. I’ve learned thousands of different ways to help heal my body. I’ve learned what true friends are all about. I’ve learned that who I am is a combination of how I have dealt with what has happened to me, and the choices that I have made along the way.
My best choice so far was deciding that my life would go on, and having been burnt was not going to stop me from living my life the way I want to.
I’m pretty sure that my beautiful wife and two adorable little girls would agree with me.
STRENGTH THROUGH LIFE’S JOURNEY – Hi my name is Ilyambabazi Sebyeza and I am a burn survivor. Four years ago I was injured in a fire accident at my home. My face was the most affected. The nature of my injury was a bit of 3rd, 2nd, and 1st degree burns …
STRENGTH THROUGH LIFE’S JOURNEY – Hi my name is Ilyambabazi Sebyeza and I am a burn survivor. Four years ago I was injured in a fire accident at my home. My face was the most affected. The nature of my injury was a bit of 3rd, 2nd, and 1st degree burns. My first week at the Burn Unit was filled with pain; which the magic of pain killers made bearable, coupled with the abundant TLC provided by the nursing staff, and the unconditional love and support of my family and friends.
By the end of the first week most of my wounds were healed, except for the areas that had suffered deep burns. At the beginning of my second week in the Burn Unit I was suddenly informed that I was being discharged the same day; however, it turned out that there was a mistake and my actual day of discharge ended up happening two days after. I generally didn’t take my discharge very well because I felt that I still needed specialized care as the more deeply burned areas on my face were still unhealed; the hospital staff convinced me that it was much safer for me to be at home rather than the hospital due to the prevalence of super bugs in hospitals.
In spite of my reservations about being discharged early, I was glad to be going home. My son, who was 7 at the time of my accident, was very happy to have me back home; his little world had been rocked by my injury, and to have me back home was a reassurance that I was okay, and everything would get back to normal. My parents and siblings were also very helpful in doing things that I couldn’t do for myself; but other than needing help with major physical tasks, from my first day of returning home I did all my own house chores and did errands outside of my home. Keeping active was my way of preventing me from focusing on the aches and pains of my injury.
For treatment I continued to get assistance from a local community nurse’s agency, in addition to a weekly visit to the out patient VGH Burn Clinic. Close to the third week of my being at home, one of the community nurses that visited me suggested that I start attending the North Shore Wound Clinic on Commercial Drive and 1st Avenue; up to this point there seemed to be a setback in my healing and the doctors were beginning to suggest surgery. My preference was to give my body a chance of healing itself before opting for surgery; the doctors, though, felt that my healing was taking longer and that put me at risk of infection. I totally understood the concerns of the doctors and I was just as concerned too; however, I believed that my body could heal itself given time; so I decided to take a chance and avoid the surgery for the time being, as I started to receive treatment at the local wound clinic.
My feeling was that the only medication (polyspun) that was being used on my wounds was not helping me any more, and it was actually making my wounds worse; when I expressed that concern to the wound clinic staff on my first visit, the nurse on duty immediately suggested an alternative in the form of an anti fungal silver fabric. It took me a few days to get used to the anti fungal dressings as they got very dry in the wound, and thus required to be kept moist to avoid discomfort. For the two and a half weeks that I used the anti fungal dressings, I spent many sleepless nights waking up to moisten them; which left me very tied, but there was a pay off, as after one week of using the dressings, I started observing signs of healing. By the third week of using the anti fungal dressings all my wounds were healed; this allowed me to start the process of being fitted with the facial mask, which would help my skin to heal better.
The facial mask stage in my healing brought its own challenges, more so because I started wearing it during summer; not to mention the stares that I got that made me feel like a freak. The stares were the least of my worries though; my main concern was the discomfort it caused me when I was sleeping, which led to me being fatigued most of the times. But like everything else, it was just a matter of learning how to adapt to the mask; and how I went about that was by treating the mask as that bitter pill that I had to religiously swallow, simply because it was going to cure me. Soon the mask became part of my daily attire, such that at times I forgot I had it on. People in my neighborhood got so used to seeing me with the mask that they never stared any more; I actually made some friends, mostly children and their parents who would stop me wanting to know about the purpose of the mask. I wore the mask for one and a half years; during this time I chose not to go back to work so as to give myself enough time to heal better. I took this as an opportunity to empower myself more physically and intellectually by taking membership at a neighborhood gym, where I started exercising thrice a week, and also joined their book club. Shortly after I also enrolled in an administrative assistant diploma program to improve on my computer skills and learn other things in the process. Like the saying goes, “there is a silver lining to everything”, during the time of my injury I did more things towards my own self care than I have ever done before.
People who know me often tell me how I did well during the time of my injury; and I believe that they are alluding to the fact that I never complained or whined about my situation. The truth is that I had my “why me moments” and I still do sometimes when I look at the scares on my face; however, my feeling sorry for myself moments were, and still are, far out weighed by more pressing issues. Most important for me is the well being of my son and that surpasses anything. At my lowest moments during my injury, being the only parent in my son’s life is what gave me the strength through my journey of healing. I believe that we are all blessed with the ability to be resilient when the going gets tough; however for that resilience to come into play for some of us, we need to believe that there is a purpose in our existence, beyond just our physical appearance. In my case I strongly believed that I had to be strong for the sake of my son and that helped me to endure the stressful moments of my injury. For those of you that are in the early stages of dealing with burn injuries I wish you a speedy recovery.
I am a survivor – Stop. Drop and Roll…which are words that have been drilled into every child’s mind since day one. Three words that I never thought would have such an effect on my life at the age of twelve. I was spending an afternoon at a friend’s …
I am a survivor – Stop. Drop and Roll…which are words that have been drilled into every child’s mind since day one. Three words that I never thought would have such an effect on my life at the age of twelve.
I was spending an afternoon at a friend’s house, sitting around a campfire enjoying myself when all of a sudden I heard this overwhelming loud bang, all I could see was a wall of fire and then everything went silent.
At this point the ringing in my ears began, I couldn’t see clearly but I ran anyways, once my vision came back I realized that I was on fire. After a few screams I stopped, dropped and rolled and the flames went out. All I could smell was a horrid smell of paint. That smell haunted me for years after it happened, reoccurring at random and making me feel sick. The paint smell belonged to a silver spray paint can that exploded in the fire. I never would have thought that such a small object could have such a huge impact on my life.
Without fully understanding the severity of my burns, I took a shower to cool down and clean myself up so that maybe my mom wouldn’t be too mad at me. From there my dad took me to the hospital, upon entering the double doors of the emergency ward the blatant reality of my burns became apparent. At this point the adrenalin started to wear off as real pain took its place. Morphine, gels, gauze, nurses, doctors, paint covered dead skin and four hours later I was on my way to Vancouver, my first plane ride ever. Despite being strapped down to a metal table on my stretcher bed, I still really enjoyed seeing the big city lights at 2 am.
Two weeks in the hospital, third degree burns from my fingertips to my elbow, second and third degree on both legs and my face, could all be summed up into one phrase by my mom “he’s a trooper.”
The road to recovery was a long and painful journey. After a month of home tutoring, I had to face the fact that I would never be or look the same, but I took that first step. The kids at school had never seen pressure garments, or a burn victim before, and although they were kind on the surface I felt I didn’t belong. And then one thing changed everything, it changed my hope and my self-confidence as well as my entire out look on life. That one thing was Burn Camp 2004.
This was where all my worries and personal issues vanished for it was in these surroundings I was normal. Burn Camp was so much more than an experience to me, it was the factor that made my recovery what it was and really has made me who I am. Camp was something that I could not let go of after one year, so I went for the following six years until graduation, each time returning a stronger person. In the later years it became less about healing my pain, and instead helping those others who had their own pain to heal. So many kids would hide in a shell, so traumatized and wrapped up in what happened to them that they didn’t know how to escape, but camp gave them the opportunity to shed that shell, break those barriers, and walk with their head up high, as a normal kid again.
Every person at camp played a role in helping someone else. The fire fighters and nurses did more than organize, fundraise, and comfort the victims; they changed our lives. If it was not for them, and the countless people that contribute to programs like the BCPFF Burn Fund, so many kids, just like my self, would still not only be victim to their burn scars, but their trauma scars as well. New research and technology now makes physical scars heal quicker and better, which makes the hospital stay shorter and the mental stress far less. Going through the experience of being burned, healing, the pressure garments, the gels, the medication, the sunscreen, and the emotions can make a kid grow up far too fast.
Everyone has a dream, may it be a hero, a fire fighter, or a role model but being burned builds walls of fear, a fear that nothing can change. The Burn Fund programs breaks down those walls and replaces doubts with willpower to go above and beyond those dreams.
The Burn Fund is what changes a burn victim into a burn survivor.
Keep Walking – When I came down to make my tea the kettle had just turned off. l put the tea bag into my Grande size travel cup and poured the boiling hot water into the cup. Immediately I picked up a spoon that was just behind the cup to add the honey …
Keep Walking – When I came down to make my tea the kettle had just turned off. l put the tea bag into my Grande size travel cup and poured the boiling hot water into the cup. Immediately I picked up a spoon that was just behind the cup to add the honey so it could melt in the hot tea.
Before even reaching the honey, the cup of boiling hot water spilt over the edge of the counter top right onto my right thigh. I was wearing Spandex pants and had to get them off as my thigh was burning.
About a quarter of the cup splashed on my thigh. l thought that I put the cup back onto the counter top, but instead l dropped it onto the floor. The remaining three quarters of the hot water now spilt on my left foot and I was only wearing a sock.
I screamed for help and my two sons and daughter ran to help me; arranging for towels for my thigh and a bucket full of ice-cold water for my left foot.
Eventually l went to Mount St. Joseph’s Hospital and the staff advised me I had first-degree burns and to see my family doctor in five days. I was provided with some cream and bandages and released from the Hospital.
When I met with my doctor he took off the bandages and reported that I had in fact a severe second-degree burn as well as major damage to my foot. Home and doctor visits followed and months later my foot was still not healing. I went to see a specialist for the continual pain. I was treated with needles to treat a nerve blockage but I was only able to do this for two visits and then referred to the Head of the Pain Unit at St. Paul’s Hospital.
I started treatments of lidocaine on October 5, 2011. Every two months this tube goes in my stomach and I have nerve freezing that last for about three weeks. Early in 2013, I went to the Burn Unit out patient clinic and was told that my foot is fine and that there is nothing more that can be done which is an ongoing story for me with the experienced pain.
I joined The Future Is Mine in 2012 and I am a very active member in the program. The activities are varied as are my interests and the members are like a family to me! Also, I am on FACEBOOK for The Future Is Mine and really enjoy the connections and conversations that are shared. This is what gives me the ongoing determination to participate and know that I will…. Keep Walking!
One Match Changes a Life – My story began at the age of 5 years old when curiosity got the best of me on an early summer morning. Our family vehicle was in the driveway with an array of toys that were still inside as purchased from the local fair the n …
One Match Changes a Life – My story began at the age of 5 years old when curiosity got the best of me on an early summer morning.
Our family vehicle was in the driveway with an array of toys that were still inside as purchased from the local fair the night before. I was now very keen to get to the car and collect the toys to enjoy; so off I went.
Never was there a moment that I thought the walk to the car would forever shape and impact my life as it has.
When I entered the vehicle the first thing I saw was a pack of stick matches and I can’t even to this day tell you what toys were in the car. Once I settled into the front seat and I began what became a ritual as I was fascinated by fire and strangely enough it was soothing to my soul. The magnificent colorful flames kept my attention always as a young child and as I found out shortly after – it was not the friend I thought it to be!
I stroked the matches one by one until the match I was holding became too hot and was burning the tip of my finger. When I tried to blow it out and could not, it then dropped onto my polyester nightgown, which immediately went up in flames, as did the front seat.
Terror and horror set in as did the fear, which went through me and being at such a young age was truly terrifying and difficult to overcome.
With third degree burns on the front of my body my life included nightmares, burn baths, dressing changes and one very long painful summer. The medical staff, nurses, doctors and most important my family made the trauma of that experience as manageable as possible given what we were up against. I am forever grateful for the compassion and kindness others had shown me during those 3 painful months while in hospital in Saskatchewan.
My teenage years were most difficult and as each year passed on I became more and more aware that I was different. Name calling and taunting from the boys in my high school was hurtful and it chipped away at my self-confidence. However, I was old enough to understand and young enough to bounce back that I knew if I dedicated my young years to athletics that I just might have a chance. If I could channel my energy in the right direction I felt pretty confident that things just might change for me and once again the future would look bright.
I set out, raised the bar high and made some personal athletic dreams come true. This included being named as the Saskatchewan Female Athlete of the Year at 17 I had early success as a competitive swimmer and then went on as a junior/senior in track and field to become a member of the Canadian Track and Field Team. My greatest achievement was being ranked 2nd in Canada for the 1500 meters with a time of 4:10.09. What a great ride it has been and I would not change a thing.
Over time I learned to embrace my scars as they are a part of me and remind me of my strength and courage that is lies within.
To have experienced all that I did as a young child and to overcome what I have has shown me how to be compassionate towards others and that personal judgment has no place in our lives. Being empowered by ourselves, by our consciousness will allow us all to live more openly, freely and heal within.
If there is one thing I can leave with you through my own personal journey; Remember ALWAYS you are LOVED and at times of darkness find the LIGHT to DREAM!
Search and draw from your inner strength, as it will guide you through some of the darkest moments. Trust the voice within and know the answers will come through you in time. Look for comfort in the things that bring you the GREATEST pleasure. For myself it was and still is today my athletics, which includes swimming and a new focus on golf. Could a Master’s tour for Women just be around the corner?
Now I am an active member of The Future Is Mine and look forward to being connected to this very special community to inspire and be inspired!
Perseverance, Consistence & Encouragement -It’s been three years since my burn accident had occurred, or should I say I’ve been a burn survivor for three years. Let me bring you back to how my paramedic and I remember this true story. It was around …
Perseverance, Consistence & Encouragement -It’s been three years since my burn accident had occurred, or should I say I’ve been a burn survivor for three years. Let me bring you back to how my paramedic and I remember this true story.
It was around 6:30 in the evening of December 24th, 2009. Christmas Eve. No school and the plan was to hang out with my friends and leave the next morning to celebrate Christmas together with my family. My dad, mom who recently came back from Hong Kong and my little brother who also came from a distant place, Waterloo, our plan was to meet in Victoria where we had a place up in Bear Mountain. My sister and her fiancé couldn’t come because they were busy doing prep work during the Winter Olympic of 2010 at Whistler.
I met up with my friends at a house in Burnaby, parked my car along side with my friend, Jason’s car. As I could recall during the winter 2009, the roads were icy, unstably slippery, and visibility minimal. I remember staying there for a bit but I left early because I didn’t want to be late for my next day’s ferry ride to Victoria.
My accident occurred on the 25th day of December around 1:30 in the morning. My car hit a rock wall in a T intersection right in front of the EA Games company. I don’t know how and what happened, maybe I hit black ice or I fell asleep but I’m not exactly sure because the next thing I know I was in the hospital. Luckily, there was a car behind me who reported the accident, the fire station was close by and ambulance came only 30 seconds after the fire fighters had arrived. Unfortunately, the car engine bay caught on fire and there was a fist size hole on the windshield, which is where the flames came from into the car.
The fire fighters saved me by pulled me out of the burning vehicle and the paramedics saved me by performing something called cricothyrontomy(slice open throat to insert a tube) for breathing because my face was swollen due to the burns and no oxygen could bypass my nose nor mouth. While the paramedic was operating on me he didn’t have time to sedate me prior to operate but did so on the way to the hospital.
I was placed into an induced coma for the first month in ICU at VGH; I had the longest dream of my life. News broke out to my parents Christmas morning from RCMP saying that I was in critical condition, so they got picked up from a RCMP helicopter to VGH. My family contacted some friends because we previously planned to hang out in Victoria during Boxing Day. Heartbroken my family and friends visited me at the hospital. I was 33% burned, apparently wrapped up like a mummy from head to toes. When I was finally awoke a month later in BPTU, I was confused and disoriented. I even thought that I was in Victoria for the longest time. At first I wasn’t able to move, eat or speak; I wasn’t able to move because I was so skinny and weak (I looked like I had zero muscle mass); wasn’t able to speak and eat because I’ve got a trake in my throat and my mouth was so contracted that it was difficult for me to swallow pills. I remembered my body, arms and legs were so skinny, and I’ve lost almost 50lbs or more. I fought through the long complicated journey. Had countless surgeries all over my body, face mouth, and never the less just the eyelids alone I’ve had more than ten surgeries.
I stayed around four months in VGH, and then headed on to GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre for two months. Once discharged from GF Strong I planned to make small goals like renewing my belongings, ID cards, and driver license. That’s the start of little steps to accomplishing big goals. I of course have bigger long term goals like getting back to school and finishing the course and going back to work in the military as a reservist. There were some slight setbacks due to ongoing surgeries during 2010. However I had decided to finish my Aircraft Mechanic courses first without further delay since the doctors’ respond was that the surgeries aren’t necessarily urgent. During my school in 2011 I was very fortunate to be awarded the Oswald Howell Memorial Bursary sponsored by the BCPFF Burn Fund. I have persevered and completed my Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Program by the end of 2011.
I’m very excited and happy to say that during 2012, I have gotten back on duty with the Military from the Canadian Forces. I was also tasked away to Edmonton during the summer to work as staff members and to train troops. Finally at the end of the year I was awarded “Queens Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee,” for completing my school and continuing work at the military despite any obstacles.
I have accomplished a lot these past few years, my future goals and objectives are to complete my Commercial Pilot License training, volunteer and help out with this year’s burn camp community, lastly get my component transfer active with the military, from infantry to air forces, so I could use the skills I’ve learned and put in to practical work.
It’s easier said than done, unfortunately due to my burns circumstance, there were ongoing surgeries; therefore, every time I had an operation, I had to recover, stay positively discipline and get my body back to shape.
Don’t Grieve – You WILL Find A Way – In April 1992 I was involved in a devastating house fire. I was very fortunate that I was the only victim in this tragic accident and when rescued was barely alive. I had managed to crawl towards our living room win …
Don’t Grieve – You WILL Find A Way –
In April 1992 I was involved in a devastating house fire. I was very fortunate that I was the only victim in this tragic accident and when rescued was barely alive.
I had managed to crawl towards our living room window through smoke and flames before collapsing. Flown to Vancouver General Hospital I began the long healing journey that would prove to be my biggest challenge of my life. Severely burned and scarred to 70% of my body I lost my fingers and my facial features were burned beyond recognition. It took months of skin graphs and numerous surgeries to repair my face and body to the best of the surgeons’ ability. It would take months of constructive surgery to create some partial facial features such as eyelids, lips and add a skin to separate my chin from my chest to create a neck for me in order to be mobile. This was grueling and extensive constructive surgery but they were successful.
After a few months of reconstructive surgery and recovery at VGH I was finally given a mirror to take my first look at my face. When I first saw myself I dropped the mirror and wept for hours. My husband tried to console me as I asked him “Why didn’t they just let me die…I am a FREAK!” I refused to eat or see anyone after that first encounter with the mirror. I went into a deep depression and refused to do any therapy or associate with anyone for at least a week.
I am not certain as to what made me decide that I wasn’t going to let this beat me, but I believe it was when I first saw my daughter that I changed my attitude. There was also a home video that was mailed to me of my youngest son’s second birthday party which helped me realize that my children and the rest of the family were a great inspiration and the reason I needed to fight and get out of the hospital. I knew I had a long road ahead of me but knowing I had my children, a loving husband and all my family supporting me…I was not going to give up. I was so fortunate that I had the love of my family and friends surrounding me. If it were not for them I truly believe I would not have made it through this whole ordeal.
The next step was my rehabilitation at GF Strong. The first step was to accept the fact I had lost my fingers, my facial features and most of my body. This was the most difficult part of my healing journey. Many nights and days I grieved for what I had lost. At times I felt there was no point in my living or even trying to work on myself. My spirit was broken. I was so depressed, and angry at the Creator for allowing me to live through this awful experience. Each time I would be ready to give up I would always focus on my children and my husband who were waiting for my to return home. After entering GF Strong I was taught different ways in which to feed, dress, and take care of myself. Something as simple as tying my shoes, zipping or buttoning my clothes would be the most challenging. I taught myself different techniques and figured out ways to utilize what was left of my hand, which was my thumb to feed and dress myself. With my will I would definitely find a way. I was not going to let a few setbacks stand in my way. Although I still have moments of regrets and ‘what if?’ I did things differently, I do not think I would have become the courageous and determined individual I have become today. All that I have endured and conquered these past few years has taught me to be grateful for what I have today. When I think about all that I have been through all that comes to mind is…? Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. I refuse to grieve for what I lost but am grateful for all I have accomplished in the last twenty years since this tragic accident. It made me become the strong-willed Gitxsan Woman I am today.
Building A New Life – In December 2009 my life took a shattering blow when I was burnt to more than 35% of my body in a kitchen fire. However, God has since offered me a new life. Through the trauma I have been living since then, I realized that I had …
Building A New Life – In December 2009 my life took a shattering blow when I was burnt to more than 35% of my body in a kitchen fire. However, God has since offered me a new life. Through the trauma I have been living since then, I realized that I had a mission to fulfill. It was an experience that has shown me the depths of suffering and the re-building of a new life, day by day.
It seems as though it was only yesterday that it all happened. I still wake up at nights, sweating and trembling from the vivid reminiscences of my accident. The smell of burnt flesh haunted my nostrils for months before I could forget. However, I cannot seem to remove the memory of the scene of my blazing clothes and the rush under the shower to douse the wounds once my husband and my fourteen-year-old son had managed to kill the flames.
The ambulance took me to the only hospital specialized in Burns in Mauritius. It was a thirty minutes drive from my home. I was naked, in shock and my hair was shaved right off my head. Minutes later my wounds were dressed with antibiotic cream and bandages that covered nearly my whole body. Later to be replaced by pressure garments worn for almost two years. IV Drips were fixed to my veins and I had them for twenty-five days, replenishing my body with all sorts of antibiotics and medications. The day following my accident, my body and face had swollen so much that my husband and family visiting me could not recognize me.
The first days at the hospital, I thought I would die but my husband would dissipate my fears with comforting words. I had a strong will and I wanted to survive for my beautiful family.
I was transferred to the female ward a few days prior to my discharge. While in the I.C.U, I would sometimes experience hypothermia as it was December and I was freezing. Burns devour calories. I lost seven kilos over a period of one week.
During my stay at the hospital, my body was transfused with more than sixteen pints of blood and over twenty pints of frozen plasma. One day, after a debridement session where I had lost a lot of blood in the operating theatre, the doctor ordered two pints of blood for me. However, the blood bank refused to fulfill the order as they said they had run out of O+ blood. The nurses could do nothing.
When I was discharged from the hospital on New Year’s Eve, I was still in bad shape with an unhealed third degree wound on my right shoulder and two second degree wounds on my thighs.
More than six months have passed since my accident and each day is still a challenge! We have now moved to Canada and I have been welcomed into The Future Is Mine community attending some wonderful events both at The Dirty Apron and the Nat Bailey Stadium (our FIRST baseball game) with the entire family. Also we participated in the Peer Support Group Sessions, which have connected me with other survivors.
I know that my body will never, ever be the same as before in spite of all the medical help. I know that my husband and children care a lot about me and are ready to accept me with my scars.
I am building a new life!
Being A Survivor Not A Victim – Where better to start my story then at the beginning… I was burned while on a camping trip with my aunt, uncle, brother and family friends. It was a great day by the lake at the campsite and I was lounging around the c …
Being A Survivor Not A Victim – Where better to start my story then at the beginning…
I was burned while on a camping trip with my aunt, uncle, brother and family friends. It was a great day by the lake at the campsite and I was lounging around the campfire with another boy. It was a beautiful summer day and I was enjoying relaxing without a worry or care. The other boy was poking the fire with a stick and the embers and smoke making their way from the flames fascinated me. Little did I know that one of those embers would cause a ripple effect that would leave an impact on my life whether I was ready or not.
An ember landed on my nylon track pants, and it began to melt the material to my shin. I could feel the warmth on my leg, but I was only eight years old, so I thought that it was just because it was a hot day in the summer, and I was sitting next to the fire. When I finally realized that my pants were on fire and melting to my skin I panicked. My first instinct was to run to the lake and I sprinted straight for it from my chair. Fortunately, my brother tackled me to the ground before I got too far and rolled me around. My aunt and uncle quickly grabbed a wet towel, started the car and began the drive to the hospital, over an hour away. The only thing I remember from the drive was the stinging pain on my leg and my aunt’s face turned back from the front seat checking on me.
I finally got to the hospital and was taken care of by the doctors and nurses there. I flew from Cranbrook back home to Vancouver shortly after and began the long healing process. The process included weekly visits to the burn unit, a few weeks in the hospital for surgery, and months of wearing a skin compressor and applying ointment to my burn and skin graft multiple times a day. The whole time I was limited in what sports I could play and how much I could move around.
Even though I got through all that pain and trauma, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have been able to bear the burden and move past my demons without my loving family, loyal friends, and the Burn Fund- more specifically the Burn Camp. The summer after my burn I was mailed information and an application for Burn Camp. The Burn Fund contacted my dad multiple times about me attending. At the time I was very self-conscious about my scars, but at the same time I didn’t think I needed to attend camp because I thought I was over it. The same thing happened year after year. My dad would get the application in the mail, try to convince me to go to camp and I would refuse. It wasn’t until seven years after I was burned that I said, “Yeah, sure I’ll go it’s only a week and I’m not doing anything else during the summer.” It is a decision that I now regret not making 6 years earlier.
The entire week was easily one of the greatest memories that I’ll ever have. I will truly cherish it for the rest of my life. Water fights, river rafting, and riding ATVs at Whistler are just a few things we did that week; all with other children and teenagers that have been burned. Every single camper was friendly, comfortable and was having a good time. Looking back at it now I can see that it was because we are connected at a deeper level than most summer camps and groups. We all experienced the pain, agony, trauma, teasing, and isolation that come with being burned badly. Even if I hadn’t felt like I belonged, or enjoyed the activities we did, I would still have been able to say that I took something more important away from Burn Camp. I am a burn survivor not a burn victim!
I lived to tell the tale of a tragic accident that occurred and it didn’t cripple me- it strengthened me. I realized that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my scars, but that I can be proud and wear them like a badge of honor. The Burn Fund was a steady source of support for me even when I wouldn’t accept it. Without the firefighters, nurses, doctors and volunteers of the Burn Fund, I doubt that moving on would have been as easy. The support of the Burn Fund even continued as I entered my post-secondary education when I received a scholarship to help me pursue my degree. They have forever changed my perspective and I have even been lucky enough to volunteer and offer the same help to other survivors.
To all the members, volunteers, firefighters, nurses, and fellow survivors, thank you and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this community.
Lesson Learned. Lessons Shared – My story as a survivor began when I was burned February 1983 in an apt fire in Edmonton. I awoke to find my son Adam who was a week away from being 5 at the time sitting in our living room surrounded by fire. He had di …
Lesson Learned. Lessons Shared – My story as a survivor began when I was burned February 1983 in an apt fire in Edmonton. I awoke to find my son Adam who was a week away from being 5 at the time sitting in our living room surrounded by fire.
He had discovered some matches a friend had left behind (I am not a smoker so matches were not a usual item in my home) and like most children of this age he started to play with the matches and wound up dropping them on some papers.
By the time I found him, the living room was ablaze and he was trapped behind it just sitting and staring at his hands…when he didn’t respond to my calls I did what any parent would do, I ran through the flames to get him. I tucked him under my arm and went to go out the door to the hallway of the building but it was locked and the handle was too hot to touch.
I then remembered all the things that I had read in the pamphlets Adam had brought home from his two visits in the previous week to the fire hall (one with school and one with day care). I got down low and crawled to my room which was the furthest from the fire, closed the door behind us and rolled us both in the blanket on the bed. I then went to the window and yelled for help.
My neighbours were gathered below my window and assured me that the fire department was on it way. I was having a great deal of trouble holding on to Adam and asked a neighbour to catch him as I dropped him from our 3rd floor window. After he was safely caught a neighbour took him into a suite on the other side of the building and put him in a tub of cool water. This quick thinking made a big difference in Adam’s burns as they never went full thickness and he wound up only needing 2 surgeries. He received burns to 40% of his body and spent 2 months in hospital.
The firemen rescued me down a ladder and one of the pictures I included is a copy of the mural that the Edmonton fire dept had done for Edmonton’s 100 Anniversary – the rescue in the top right corner is mine.
I wound up with burns to 85% of my body and 50% were full thickness. I was told several years later that I only had a 17% chance of survival! As no one told me I quickly determined living was the only and best option. I spent 8 months in hospitals, another 1 1/2 years doing physio and had my last surgery 13 yrs after the accident. My burns are on my face, neck, back, arms, hands and feet.
While I was recovering I met a fireman named Tim Vandenbrink…he taught prevention and he convinced me to come out and tell my story to some students…I found I liked doing it. There were some important lessons that could be learned from my fire…one don’t leave matches or lighters where children can find them…also my smoke detector was not working (there was no battery in it)…and as important a lesson…that people can look different but still have a great life.
In 2001 I started talking to students full time primarily in the Edmonton area at the beginning. My key subjects were prevention and awareness. With prevention I also included the impacts of scalding, electrical, chemical burns and frostbite.
With awareness I told them my story and how my life has been since my burn and always tell the students that I like the way I look.
I had always wanted to move back to the Okanagan Valley so I eventually transferred with Starbucks to a store in Penticton and am very happy to be back where I feel I belong.
With my grandsons and son living in North Vancouver it gives me a chance to be with them and participate in The Future Is Mine activities. This year we will all be attending the Pumpkin Patch!
Recently, Ann Coombs came to Penticton to meet with burn survivors in the area and I was really pleased to be appointed the SHARE Representative for the Penticton area and will continue to speak and share my experiences at schools, conferences and more.
Survival During Changing Times – As a burn survivor we all have a story, and for some it may be easier to write about, but I find it difficult and felt that it would not make for great reading. I was burned at 9 months; actually it was Easter Saturday …
Survival During Changing Times – As a burn survivor we all have a story, and for some it may be easier to write about, but I find it difficult and felt that it would not make for great reading.
I was burned at 9 months; actually it was Easter Saturday in 1965. It is not something that is worth remembering for me so have never held the exact date in my mind.
My Mother was very young when I was born. At that time there was no social safety net (welfare). My Uncle and his wife took in my mother and me. My mother worked as their nanny. I am not really sure where they lived. I think it was in Winnipeg MB.
There was a big “to do” there that weekend as my Father returned to town to visit us. My Aunt had made some French fries and left the deep fryer cord hanging off the counter. It was still plugged in and the cord was right above my head.
I spent a lot of time at Toronto Sick Children’s Hospital after that.
As a burn survivor the toughest part of my life as far as dealing with my burn was my childhood and early adulthood. It was so tough; I never had many friends in school.
In elementary school, I was picked on a lot. I am not sure if it was because I was Native or burned. For the first couple of years I wore a hat. I was so naive I didn’t know I wasn’t normal. I just had burns on me. I was lucky to have been boarded out to a family who had older children. Whenever the other children made me cry they would take care of me, and talk to the other children.
After Elementary school I was a sponsored by a Shriner from Findlay Ohio and I was fitted with wigs every year. These were very high quality wigs, made with real human hair. The only problem with them was Natives have straight hair and the style of the day was the mullet.
I also had many surgeries to my face and hands; to separate and straighten my fingers. Because they expected to perform so many surgeries I lived with my sponsors for one year. During that time I was a celebrity of sorts. Many of the children, and some adults, had never seen a Canadian let alone a “real Indian.” I even appeared in the local newspaper paper with a full page article.
I went to a high school, back in Canada, where I was the only Native student and with my interests I took all the advance courses that were offered. There were a total of 1,500 students at the high school who were all of Eastern European descent, entirely Caucasian – except for me.
While at school I found that I could easily do the work, but with my confidence level at a low ebb I seldom tried very hard. Some days it was hard enough to just appear at school. One of the reasons was I had to wear a wig. That makes me laugh now, but at that time my emotions were on the other side of the spectrum. I was always asked if I was wearing a wig, sometimes the kids even tried to pull it off my head. I felt very insecure about having to wear a wig.
In life today I work in a metal distributing warehouse. I am in a co-parenting venture with my cousin Erin. We attended a few classes to help us identify and cope with some of the difficulties we might experience. This training helped me see how a big part of my personality was established by the trauma my burns have caused me during my life.
I was thinking about my mother’s story too. She had to take care of me by herself for 2 or 3 years after my accident. I really have a problem referring to it as that. She always kept me sheltered and protected me. All the pictures I see of myself I always had a toque or a cap on my head. I never really talked to her about her experiences. It is such a difficult subject for her. One thing she did tell me was how a bus driver told her to cover me up because I was scaring the other children on the bus. How the times have changed.
Erin suggested I find a group to help me heal myself. This led me to connect with the BCPFF Burn Fund began with my being part of the first Focus Group Session for The Future Is Mine Program and have been a participant and volunteer over eight years. I am glad to help with the group at the Bright Nights Volunteer Day, and have enjoyed the various activities I am able to participate in with my family.
Survival in changing times – I am glad to be where I am today!
Focusing On The Future – On Thursday, June 11, 2009 when I arrived home from work to find my roommate prepping dinner but hadn’t started the BBQ so I offered to get it started. Steaks and a beer were going to be the perfect way to relax in a beautiful …
Focusing On The Future – On Thursday, June 11, 2009 when I arrived home from work to find my roommate prepping dinner but hadn’t started the BBQ so I offered to get it started. Steaks and a beer were going to be the perfect way to relax in a beautiful warm Kamloops evening!
Our landlord had left an old rusty charcoal bbq that I had cleaned up a few days prior. I lit the charcoal using lighter fluid as I usually did, noticing that I had emptied the container and would have to pick some more up on my way home the following evening.
About five to ten minutes later, I went outside to check if the bbq was hot enough to start cooking the steaks. Unfortunately the charcoal hadn’t caught fire and the bbq was almost cold to the touch again. Annoyed, and not wanting to delay dinner I saw the little gas can that I had filled up a few days ago when mowing the lawn.
I reached out my hand to drizzle a little bit of the gas around the edges, and since I was pretty confident that all the embers were out, I glanced over at the cat inspecting the back yard, called to him to get his attention so he wouldn’t hop the fence, and then casually tossed the rest of the container of gas onto the heap of charcoal.
Suddenly I was engulfed in a huge ball of fire. It happened so quickly, but I can still vividly recall the flames rolling towards me. My hair was long, and it instantly caught fire. The heat combined with the sound of hair burning made me start pounding at the fire with my hands. Instinctively I ran into the back door, I don’t remember screaming outside, but once inside my friend heard me yelling and he burst through the door into the entrance way/laundry room. At this point I was trying to get the laundry room sink running. Looking up I could see myself on fire in the mirror over the sink, and as I tried to turn the faucet I watched the skin on my hands slip off and peel away like a rubber glove.
My friend grabbed me and we fell to the floor…rolling around and beating out the fire on my hands and head. It felt like an eternity as every time he put out a spot and went to the next he first spot would flare up again.
Once the flames were out I started going into shock and my body had begun shaking uncontrollably. The neighbours had called 911 and it seemed like forever, but I finally heard the sirens. When the firefighters arrived they started pouring saline solution over my face, neck and hands. It was instant relief – but only as long as there was a constant stream of saline. The ambulance arrived shortly after; and as the paramedics and firefighters stood around discussing how they would get me moved up onto the stretcher, I stood up and went and sat down on the stretcher for them.
When they got me into the ambulance, they gave me a shot to help with the pain…but I kept telling them it wasn’t enough and they needed to give me more. I was still pretty coherent when I got into the hospital, they asked me all the usual questions; age/date of birth etc. and then asked me if they could cut off my shirt and bra. I don’t remember much after that, but was told that they gave me general anesthesia and intubated me because they had given me as much morphine as they could, and I still wouldn’t go to sleep. I was MedEvac’ed to Vancouver General Hospital that night to the ICU unit.
The doctors told my family that I probably wouldn’t wake up for a few days as they wanted to keep me sedated because of the pain, but being the stubborn person that I am, I woke up early the next morning.
It was a really strange experience, because even though it felt like a dream, I knew exactly what had happened and where I was. I couldn’t talk because of the breathing tubes, so I managed to write a few words into the air to the ICU nurse, and she assured me that my family was on the way. They would only allow one person at a time into my room, but my brothers and nephew along with a few friends spent many hours waiting to see me.
The following days are a really big blur, I remember feeling like I wasn’t getting any sleep, although I’m sure that’s really all I did. I really wanted water, and kept asking what my face was going to look like. I very badly wanted access to my iPhone, but neglected to factor in that I could barely see from under the bandages, much less use my hands that completely bandaged at that point.
I went into surgery for skin grafting to my neck and right hand on a Monday and woke up as soon as I got back to the room and called my brother as I wanted someone to know I had made it through the surgery!
My dad and sister flew in to see me and were such a support. My sister went in with me to the ‘burn shower’ and held my hand and helped me make the decision to cut off the rest of my badly burned hair. She is my hero!
My 80-year-old Dad sat with me for several hours one day as they removed the 150+ staples from the grafting in my hand. I had most of the use of my left hand back at that point and I was surprised I didn’t squeeze his hand right off. The grafting on my hand and neck were 100% successful so no further surgeries or staple removals were needed!
A week after I arrived at the hospital I was told that the place I was currently living in had just sold and I had to be out by the end of the following month. This was the first time I cried. It finally just seemed too much to deal with at the time. I had my friends and family running back and forth to the hospital fax machine, contacting my bank and realtor to get the documents in order for me to purchase the condo I had looked at earlier on the day of my accident. I couldn’t sign the first set of paperwork that came through…as I couldn’t hold a pen. So my favorite occupational therapist designed a pen that I could hold with my bandages on and still sign the paperwork.
I was released on Friday June 26th, two weeks after arriving there. This was my first time out in public with my scarf and hat in the middle of summer. The months after my return home were much harder than I anticipated. All the love and support I had in the hospital was suddenly very far away, and I was faced with moving and settling into a new home while still on some very heavy pain meds and unable to use my hands. I had only lived in Kamloops for 7 months at this time, so outside of my work colleagues, I had very little support. My boyfriend at the time stayed with me out of a sense of obligation, but the scarring and lack of hair that made me feel ugly and insecure, were also an issue for him.
I was off work for 5 weeks and then begged my employer to at least let me start working again from home for a couple hours a day. I was so happy to be back at work and feeling useful again.
The next six months were a blur, and the next thing I really recall of that year was my father being diagnosed with cancer in December. It was now my turn to sit at his hospital bedside and hold his hand as he fought for his life.
The loss of my hair was a significant struggle for me. We always want to believe that we are loved for who we are inside, not what we look like…but losing something that has always identified you, as YOU…is very hard. The scarring on my face was minimal to begin with, but after about three weeks the scars began to grow around my lips and my smile began to become crooked. I was really concerned about this and I had many painful shots of codeine to try and reduce the scar tissue build-up in my face.
I am extremely lucky and for the most part my treatments worked and I have very little scarring on my face. Most of the people around me continuously told me I was still beautiful and they didn’t notice the scarring, but my boyfriend at the time had some serious hang-ups about physical appearances. The day that he shuddered and pulled back at my touch was when I finally admitted our relationship was over and I needed to move on.
Within weeks of being single, I was laughing again, beginning to love being alive, and most of all beginning to accept and be grateful for my changed and scarred body. I was finally allowing myself to focus on the future instead of having a constant reminder of the past.
I now gauge whom I allow to be my friends and associates by the amount of joy, honesty, acceptance and lack of judgment they bring into my life. I want to learn something amazing about life from each person I come into contact with. I want to know what struggles and challenges have made them who they are today. I find myself very curious about other people’s physical scars…really wanting to know their story and how they overcame or are still overcoming their scars and disabilities.
I feel humbled by my fellow burn survivors who have dealt with much more pain and scarring then I have. It takes an inner strength like none other to go through what you have gone through. Now we all look to the future!
A Bright Future Lies Ahead – I was born and raised in North Vancouver. My Dad loved boating and anything to do with the water. My brother, sister and I took turns helping Dad with the boat chores. My Dad worked at a refinery and had the opportunity to …
A Bright Future Lies Ahead – I was born and raised in North Vancouver. My Dad loved boating and anything to do with the water. My brother, sister and I took turns helping Dad with the boat chores. My Dad worked at a refinery and had the opportunity to buy and bring home the odd barrel of gas for us to transfer into jerry cans to fuel the boat.
My accident took place in our backyard on a very warm July 28th in 1982. My Dad and I were transferring gas from the barrel to jerry cans near our open basement door. Unbeknownst to us, some gas has spilled and with the heat of the day the fumes ignited the pilot light in our furnace and sent a fireball out our basement door, which I had my back to.
I first saw my Dad on fire then it was me. I remember my Dad saying, “run to the grass!” but I honestly couldn’t figure out what was happening. It all happened so fast. My sister was washing the car at the time and thankfully put us “out”. After that I remember waiting for the fire truck and ambulance. I didn’t think anything other than wow it hurt a lot and wow, the bathing suit and shorts I was wearing aren’t on me anymore! I was 13 at the time. It is truly difficult to face a burn injury at any age; but being 13 years old and a girl with significant scarring, the emotional trauma was deep with little awareness and education on its impact in the 1980’s.
Arriving at the hospital I remembered that my girlfriends and I had plans to go to the beach the next day. I yelled to my Mom as I was wheeled into Emergency, “Tell the girls I won’t be at the beach tomorrow, because I got an awesome sunburn!” Little did I know what the next 3 months had in store for me.
My Dad spent a month in the VGH Burn Ward with burns to 28% of his body. I suffered 3rd degree burns to 48% of my body. As many, many people have said to me over the years, I am so lucky to have the burns on the back of me, not the front. Obviously they don’t understand the grafting process! I wish I could say the whole burn ward experience was horrible, trust me there were times (the burn baths, the pre-grafting process!) but the patient nurses, understanding doctors and the really cool patients, made it bearable.
During my 3 months in the VGH Burn Ward, I had five surgeries. I didn’t fully understand what had happened to my body. I loved going to the beach and being in the water and after one look at my body after all the surgeries, I pretty much knew those days were over.
Once leaving the protective cocoon of the Burn Ward, it was time to start the healing journey. I wore my Jobst garments for two years from my neck to ankles and endured physiotherapy for the same. My family and friends were so supportive through my recovery. Back in the early 1980’s there wasn’t any emotional treatment for the burn survivor. I sort of muddled my way through the bad times and there were plenty!
I look back and cringe remembering how I treated my family and how sorry I felt for myself. I was jealous of anyone who didn’t have scars like me and how dare they show off their bodies! I was full of anger. I finally sought help from a psychologist almost ten years later. With her help, I was able to lose the dark cloud that surrounded me. I wish I hadn’t spent so many years feeling sorry for myself or hurting the ones around me.
It has been 30 years since my accident. I am happily married to the most wonderful man and we have two beautiful daughters. It took me a long time to gather the courage to contact “The Future Is Mine”. Through Ann’s warm and solid encouragement, I participate in events with the organization and I am so excited to volunteer at Burn Camp this summer. It seems crazy to say, but even though it has been so long since my accident, it seems like it was just yesterday. I will never forget, but each day I will move forward and be happy. I hope my story can help others by understanding that each will have a unique story and recovery process, but that there is a future and it’s very bright!
Will & Surrender – Winter solstice of 2006 (December 21st), was to be the longest night of the year, and of my life… It was a typical evening of drinks and debauchery at The Cambie in downtown Vancouver, and a special occasion for my good friend Ky …
Will & Surrender – Winter solstice of 2006 (December 21st), was to be the longest night of the year, and of my life…
It was a typical evening of drinks and debauchery at The Cambie in downtown Vancouver, and a special occasion for my good friend Kyle had just returned from an epic 6-month trip. After a few more rounds we journeyed to the bus stop on Robson Street, between Granville & Seymour, waiting for the night bus to take us home, around 2:30 a.m.
Now it was just Kyle and other good friend Max, and I and we discovered some scaffolding in the alley against a building being demolished. At three stories up I got the “bright” idea for us to traverse the wooden transformer platform that ran between where we were and the rooftop of the Commodore Ballroom. An important note is that I was wearing a Santa hat with a can dangling from the pompom.
“BVVVEAWWW!!!” There was a bright red flash and sparks, accompanied by the chilling noise of 12,000 volts going where it’s not designed to. Whether it arced into the can through the air, or actually made contact, it entered my head on the left side and exited out my left wrist, as I was on my hands and knees. No one saw what actually happened, only my smoking body being flung back onto the scaffolding and my breathing coming to a stop.
Kyle ran to call 911, and Max performed compressions on me until I coughed out a plume of smoke and started breathing. I was whimpering and breathing through clenched teeth that Max attempted to keep open with his fingers. Kyle had returned and took a turn getting his fingers chomped on, before using his metal bracelet to do the job.
Once the emergency crews arrived it took some time to arrange my transfer. Eventually the high-angle rescue team performed an initial assessment on the scaffolding before lowering me to the ground in a stretcher with ropes.
I was rushed to Vancouver General Hospital and spent about one week in the ICU with a tracheal tube down my throat. The swelling in my upper body was so severe my own mother had to read the bed number to know it was her son. A fasciotomy (cutting of the skin) was performed on the top of my hand and forearm, to relieve the pressure on my tissue and muscles from the swelling.
After a few days the swelling subsided enough to allow my eyes to open a bit. It was an excruciating time for my family and I as I tried to communicate with my right arm strapped down (so I wouldn’t grab my airway, etc.) holding a pencil and someone moving the page. Among all sorts of gibberish and frustrated demands for water, the first things I conveyed were a sense of apology for what I had done, and gratitude for my eyesight.
I believe my will made the decision to live, and to do so I had to surrender my body, completely trusting that I would be taken care of. In that moment there was no energy to be wasted on regret, sorrow, or anger, only healing through moving forward. These are truths that I can be reminded of at any point in my life.
With electrocutions, the exit wound is typically larger than the entrance wound, and I was no exception. There was an attempt to cover up my inner forearm with a skin graft from my thigh, but the majority of it wouldn’t take. I was to either have a free flap from my other thigh if the blood supply was good enough in my arm, or have my wrist sewn to my abdomen for 4 weeks to provide the blood supply. Going into surgery I didn’t know which situation I would awake to! Thankfully a free flap was possible. A small skin graft on the edge of my hand had to be re-attempted, as tissue had been removed from the area.
Meanwhile my head was slowly closed up with staples and heavy-duty stitches with clamps at either end that were tightened each morning. Because of the trauma to my head I developed iritis (an inflammation of the iris) in my left eye, and subsequently developed cataracts in first the left eye, and then the right eye, which have since been removed.
On Feb. 13th when the time came to leave the hospital I didn’t think I was ready. I had returned to a kind of childlike paradise of sponge baths and protein-rich milkshakes, which we all experienced as infants, but need to expand out of, as scary as it may be. It had been almost 8 weeks looking out my window and reflecting on what got me here and how much more I wanted to do! Some of those idealistic resolutions may have faded but some remain. This experience will always be a part of me and I’m eternally grateful for my friends’ bravery and quick response.
Since then I have had cable nerve grafts brought up from my calves into my forearm to gain some sensation in the fingers and palm, and tendon transfers from my index and pinky fingers to my thumb to gain back some function of my hand. Splints and pressure garments were essential. At first I believed that my hand could be “fixed”, but it’s taken years to realize that although it may not be what it used to, I’m lucky to have survived and to still have my arm at all, let alone the function I have gained!
Necessity is the mother of invention and I found a way to switch to being right-handed, starting with journaling and brushing my teeth in the hospital. Yoga and swimming have played a huge part in maintaining symmetry, although I still managed to develop an inguinal hernia (which has been taken care of) from lifting using only my right side while landscaping. I have since switched to bicycle couriering as a profession, and have a few 1st place race finishes under my belt.
After 5 ½ years of physiotherapy and many surgeries I moved from a victim to a survivor! Not just surviving but thriving! My supportive medical team, volunteers, family, friends, girlfriend, (myself!), and all the people in the world putting out prayers for those in need make up the web of interconnectedness that I viscerally experienced catching me during my first recollected moments in the hospital.
The BCPFF Burn Fund and “The Future Is Mine” program have provided me with ongoing invaluable support. I have had the privilege of becoming a SHARE representative for Vancouver, facilitating teleclasses meeting survivors from around the province, attending Burn Camp as a Junior Counselor, and sharing my story at peer support group sessions as well as participating in the many activities that are offered. In the future I hope to take part in electrical safety education, as electricity is an invisible force that surrounds us in our daily lives, and often doesn’t receive the respect it deserves.
A Race That Continues – In January 1994 I hiked out to very remote beach on Vancouver Island with four of my friends including my brother. We wanted to experience the full moon and big waves while camping for a couple of nights. The usually muddy trail …
A Race That Continues – In January 1994 I hiked out to very remote beach on Vancouver Island with four of my friends including my brother. We wanted to experience the full moon and big waves while camping for a couple of nights. The usually muddy trail to the beach the night before was rock solid with the very cold, clear weather, which made it easier for us to hike in.
We all had enjoyed a bunch of drinks our first evening at the campsite. Then I had insisted on staying up last and ended up drinking by the roaring beach fire until I fell fast asleep.
I woke to a searing pain on my left arm. I felt my face, which was smooth as plastic, and my eyelids were stuck shut. I was cold, though I could tell where the beach fire still burned.
I either rolled towards the fire or the fire rolled towards me. I woke up with 14% full thickness burns mainly to my face and along my left arm. My hands had 2-degree burns. My race now began. I tried in vain to make enough noise to wake the others by banging pans and yelling for help, as I could not see anything with my eyelids burned shut.
The tents were a good 200 feet back over a confusion of frost covered beach logs. The surf pounded continuously drowning out any attempt to get attention. I tried to many times to find my way back to the tents, but found myself in shock and having to make my way back to the warmth of the fire.
Finally I pulled my left eyelid open a fraction with both hands and I was able to get a tiny window of vision. Now I could make it through the maize of logs and after stumbling past my friend’s tent, getting to mine.
I really shocked the be-jesus out of my brother Rob with my blackened face and the extensive damage caused by the burns. Rob and our friends immediately jumped into action! Two friends stayed with me while clearing out a place for a helicopter to land. Two other friends ran out the 7km trail and drove into Bamfield, a remote nearby fishing village. They were able to convince the Coast Guard to send a helicopter instead of a boat, as it would be faster and timing was critical.
Finally, several hours after my accident the small helicopter arrived! It landed within feet of where I was. The flight team strapped me into a stretcher and bundled me up for the journey. The stretcher was attached to the bottom of the small helicopter and buzzed 10k back to Bamfield Hospital.
There I was given a quick assessment and once that was over Rob and I waited for the big rescue helicopter to transport me to a Burn Center. During the flight, it was decided that Victoria Burn Unit could fit me in (after some creative shuffling of beds). On landing I was transported to Emergency by ambulance.
When wheeled into the Burn Unit, one of the nurses greeted me and said “You are going to be with us a while!”. I was indeed in the Burn Unit for quite a while – from the end of January until the middle of May – 115 days. I went through 13 surgeries which was a seemingly endless cycle.
I had lost the use of my right eye and I needed a new nose. I had a free flap from my wrist moved to my chin. I had endless variations of donor sites. It was amazing how much skin you go through! I loved the people in the unit, the nurses and support staff, and great doctors – there were many and they were all there for me!
Certainly I was very fortunate to have my three siblings living in Victoria and my parents near by. I was blown away by the endless support I got through friends and family. I had cards and letters from hundreds of people. I was very lucky to be alive!
In mid-May 1994 I was discharged at last. Then slowly but surely I got stronger but the race continued and I had a long way to go. I did go back for many more surgeries (14+) over the next three years. I wore a plastic mask for quite some time. I got my new nose; I got titanium implants for a prosthetic eye and ear. I wore jobst pressure garments for years. Finally I was “good enough”.
While going through the endless surgeries I began running to get strong. I ran the Times Colonist 10k for the heck of it (against my doctor’s advice) being my first race with 6000 other folks. I was hooked! I began racing quite a bit and eventually started training for a marathon. I ran Washington DC’s Marine Corps Marathon in 1998. Now I have run 14 marathons thus far.
Married to my wife Jane we have a six-acre farm in scenic Cobble Hill, BC. with horses that Jane manages, chickens and pigs. Our Bed and Breakfast Hillcrest Farm is busy in the summer and we both love to welcome guests to this wonderful surrounding. We live on the water, so I can take my boat out to go prawn and crabbing year round, and as a professional chef I currently work full time as a cook in Victoria at a complex care facility.
My personal race continues to include mountain biking, marathons and connection with the burn community to offer support when needed.
Lots of lines still to cross!
Pain is Inevitable, Suffering Is Optional – In early 2009 I was an eager 20 year old that decided to start a new chapter in my life and make a change to my career path. I was fortunate to find a job as an electric apprentice. On May 5, 2009 nearly thre …
Pain is Inevitable, Suffering Is Optional – In early 2009 I was an eager 20 year old that decided to start a new chapter in my life and make a change to my career path. I was fortunate to find a job as an electric apprentice. On May 5, 2009 nearly three months into the job, I arrived to work for 7am. My commute included a beautiful walk from Waterfront SkyTrain Station to my job site in Coal Harbour.
It was a reminder every morning how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful city. After arriving to work I was tasked with dusting and cleaning the large electrical components in the hotels electrical vault. This was to prevent arcing once the building was feed electricity by BC Hydro. This was a task I had done only a week before. I knew exactly what to do and I began right away. However, through miscommunication with my supervisor, BC Hydro had recently completed some work and energized equipment in the vault without any knowledge of that being passed on to me.
With the help of another apprentice we began dusting each cabinet, working from the outside cabinets towards the middle. Shortly after, I opened what I thought was a non-energized cabinet and began cleaning. Instantly an arc flash occurred, I was thrown back into a concrete wall and lost consciousness. I gained consciousness with first responders removing my charred clothing and cooling my wounds. Initially, I felt little pain. I lay on my back not knowing the extent of my injuries. I tried to convince the paramedics I was fine and I could sit up. Soon after, they raised my left arm making my burns on my left hand visible. I now became aware of the severity of my injury. The sight of my charred hand and the scent of the burning flesh increased the effects of shock on my body. I felt an intense cold and the pain was excruciating.
I arrived at Vancouver General Hospital still not knowing the true extent and origins of my burns. I was medicated shortly after arriving and experienced my first of many burn baths. My recollections from then on are very limited. The picking, pulling and cutting seemed to go on for hours. I sustained second and third degree burns to 15% of my body- mostly on my hands, arms, chest and neck.
For the next four weeks I called VGH home. I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people. The doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists were nothing less than amazing. They did everything they could to keep my family and myself comfortable throughout my four weeks with them. I have always had a positive outlook on life. However, it was a struggle to keep myself from feeling sorry for myself. As I became familiar with the hospital staff, I used humor as a method of dealing with the pain. Rather than worry about a future burn baths or surgeries, I would concentrate on ways of making it easier and that usually worked with jokes and laughter. I was fortunate to be surrounded by so much love- I could not have asked for more from my friends and family. My mother slept next to my bed every night, catering to my every need. I had home cooked meal three times and day and most importantly, someone always controlling the remote for the television.
I had two initial surgeries for skin graft, and three more to improve some over healing on my neck/throat. I was persistent with my pressure garments. Looking back now, I am so proud of myself for doing so. My advice to a newly burn survivor is to stick with them. The discomfort pays off. I attended physiotherapy for months following my discharge from the hospital and worked extremely hard to regain my strength and flexibility. My determination allowed my body to return to the state I was once at and I was quickly enjoying activates I love to do.
Throughout my time in the Burn Unit, I was approached with an application to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Camp. Not knowing anything about it, I was hesitant and delayed sending in my application. After further discussion and convincing from nurses and counsellors from camp I agreed to attend. I attended as a junior counsellor and was instantly blown away with the support the camp provides for the children. I have returned the past two years and feel privileged to have the opportunity to go back and be a part of such an amazing week. In addition, with the encouragement from Ann Coombs, I am proud to be one of the SHARE representatives.
Moving forward, I just finished the Career Fire Fighting Pre-employment Program at the Justice Institute of British Columbia in December 2011. I hope in the near future I can serve as a fire fighter and help promote fire safety and awareness turning the pain and suffering in every way to a positive.
Aiming to Make a Difference – On the August long weekend in 2007 I was in Victoria playing in a soccer tournament and spending quality time with teammates and friends. When I went to bed on the Sunday night, life was good. I woke up around 4am Monday a …
Aiming to Make a Difference – On the August long weekend in 2007 I was in Victoria playing in a soccer tournament and spending quality time with teammates and friends. When I went to bed on the Sunday night, life was good.
I woke up around 4am Monday as my neighbour was shouting at me to get out of my bedroom. A hot coal had caused the fire from a hookah pipe that had been used earlier in the night to smoke flavoured tobacco. The hookah had tipped over, and while two of the five survivors were sleeping on nearby couches, the coal sat smoldering for an hour and a half before catching fire to one of the couches, producing an extremely hot and fast spreading blaze.
My confusion turned to shock as I noticed the smoke. My room had been cut off from the rest of the house and an open door had created a back draft. I couldn’t feel pain from the flames as I struggled to slide open the window that had already become warped from the heat. It wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t see a thing. Getting low didn’t provide much relief or oxygen. Running through the hallway and out the other side of the house was not an option so I knew the window was the only way out.
The flames and dark smoke had taken over the house and it was incredibly loud. I managed to slide open the window but wasn’t able to lift myself up to climb out of it as it was at head-height and, despite the adrenaline, I didn’t have the strength. After a few attempts I was able to cling on to the ledge and was helped out by my neighbour and one of my friends who had managed to get out of the house minutes before. I stumbled to the lawn and lay down. I woke up, probably minutes later, and walked across the road further away from the heat. I remember being really confused by how surreal it was. I noticed the people who had come out of their houses gathering around as I looked in the crowd for my friends in a panic – worried that everyone might not have made it out safely.
I don’t remember much after this point but fire trucks and ambulances arrived and I was taken to Royal Jubilee Hospital. The excruciatingly painful ambulance ride was the last thing I remembered until I woke up a couple of days later in the intensive care unit. It was then that I was notified that my friends Brenna Innes and Chelsea Robinson had not survived the house fire. Brenna and Chelsea were fantastic girls, to say the least – and this news was impossible to deal with – and made even harder by not being able to talk due to the ventilator that was utilized due to smoke damage. Being unable to attend their funerals later in the week really hurt.
I sustained second and third degree burns to 16% of my body – mostly on my back and arms. After two days in ICU, I was moved to the burn unit. The professionals that helped me during my 11 days at Royal Jubilee provided me with a profound sense of appreciation and the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. I doubt the doctors and nurses could have done any more for me – they were amazing. Equally important were the actions of my family and friends who helped me through each day as I began my emotional and physical recovery.
It is now four years after the fire and while I still have a lot more processing to do family and friends continue to help me along the road, as has my recent involvement with the BC Adult Burn Community. Meeting Ann Coombs has made a hugely positive influence on my life – she gently pushes me along a sometimes difficult, but very right and necessary path. I recently finished a year of counseling which was huge in providing me with an outlet and some perspective that comes with time. These counseling sessions were key towards my forward progression.
My burns have been fully healed for a couple of years now. They are a reminder that life is good, and that I can make a difference in the lives of others – like doctors and nurses do every day. Moving forward, I am driven to promote fire safety and awareness, and my career goal is to work as a physiotherapist at a hospital. My involvement in the BC Adult Burn Community continues to be instrumental to my healing. Meeting other burn survivors during events such as the Dirty Apron cooking class, the Vancouver Canadians baseball game and BC Burn Camp have been very important and uplifting experiences. I am thankful for The Future Is Mine and very proud to be one of the SHARE Representatives, which allows me to serve others as well as provide a greater understanding of the value of the BCPFF Burn Fund and their programs that give so much support to the burn survivors.
Never Give Up – My story began on Jan 6 1966. I was 2 ½ years old and really wanted to bake a cake with my Mum. She was 7 ½ months pregnant with German measles and very sick so suggested we both have a nap before baking the cake. I waited for her to fa …
Never Give Up – My story began on Jan 6 1966. I was 2 ½ years old and really wanted to bake a cake with my Mum. She was 7 ½ months pregnant with German measles and very sick so suggested we both have a nap before baking the cake.
I waited for her to fall asleep and then got up and pushed a chair up against the stove. Leaning on the burners I was turning the knobs on and off not knowing which one was for the oven, when my pajamas caught on fire.
In the A frame wartime house my parents owned you had to go through the living room to get to the bathroom. The living room had a floor to ceiling picture window in it. The lady across the street who was shoveling her sidewalk saw a streak of flames run by as I went to sit in the bathtub and she quickly called the Fire Department. When they arrived they had to kick the door open as the door had been locked to find me in the bathtub playing in the water.
They took me out of the tub and wrapped me in a foil blanket and poured something on me to stop the heat from doing more damage and off to the hospital I went.
I suffered 3rd degree burns to 95% of my body and was in a lot of pain. My first operation was the next day to disconnect my arms from my sides, which were burned together at my armpit. For two weeks I was kept in a coma to keep me out of pain.
When I was conscious I had to manage dressing changes twice a day as well as dead skin removal. It is hard to tell a 2 ½ year old that brushing with a wire brush to get the dead skin of is good for you when you are in so much pain.
I was in the hospital for my 3rd birthday and Christmas that year for several other operations, but Santa still knew where I was because he came and gave me and all the other kids Christmas presents.
I remember my older sister and Dad would come and see me in the hospital; my Mum was there all the time. Anyone that came to see me had to put on the green hat, gown, booties, mask and gloves. They only made one size of gown and all the same length. I remember every time my sister came in she would trip on her gown which would give me a laugh that helped to deal with the pain.
For three years I remained in the hospital and started kindergarten in the hospital. When I went to a real school I would not go unless I had a new dress! I picked this dress that looks like it was make out of sofa material – orange and brown UGLY.
That is when my hell started for 12 years; SCHOOL. In the beginning the small kids stayed away from all the time looking and pointing at me. As the years went by they would made fun of me and call me names. In high school I was hoping that they would take time to get to know me but most of them used me for their own unkind fun.
There was this one guy who for four years always had a new name for me every day until one day he was not there. I went to the teacher and ask were he was, she told me that he and his Dad were out camping and he was filling up a lantern and some gas got on his pants and caught on fire when he lit the lantern. I had to go to the hospital and see him. It was my turn to put the green garb on; it was hard but I did it. When I walked in he said that now he knew how I felt with all the name-calling and we have been friends ever since.
I would be lying to you if I told you that I never thought about killing myself once or twice. I was at my lowest point in my live when this man came into my life and when he asked me to marry him, I said yes even before he could get the whole question out.
In our third year of marriage we had our son, Mitchell. I named my son after the only boy in high school that didn’t make fun of me. When Mitchell was about 6 months old that was when the marriage took a very negative turn as my husband said that he was sick of looking at my burned up body, he “wanted a real woman”. .
That is when killing myself came back into my mind, but I had a baby to think about. After a brief separation I became pregnant with our daughter Kathleen, but the negative situation remained with verbal and physical abuse that was devastating. After years of someone telling you that you are no good that no other man would ever want you – you believe it!
When the abuse eventually touched my young son’s life I moved to Prince George with my Dad’s help to start a new live for the three of us on Feb.1st 1992.
I’m glad that I had my Dad and step Mum there to help me when I needed them. For the first two years all I did was stay home and raise my kids. I then moved up to the Hart because my daughter got asthma and the air on the Hart is better then in town were we were living. The kids started school and I got to know some of the Mums and we would go for coffee after we dropped the kids at school. We would talk about anything and everything; that is when the four of us decided to go out one night. One of the ladies in the group was getting married and went over to two guys sitting at a table across from us and said “my girlfriend needs a date for my wedding what are you doing next weekend”? One looked shocked and said nothing, but we started to talk and found out that we shared one thing in common and that was his daughter who was burned in a house fire. I told him that anytime she needed someone to talk to she could call me even though she was in Thunder Bay at the time. We have been together ever since. That was 16 years ago. His name is Trevor Armour. He treats me like gold and loves me for who I am.
I have gone though about 30 to 40 operations since knowing Trevor who is always there! In my lifetime I have had 428 operations but I also have two beautiful children who are 23 and 22 . My daughter Kathleen is getting married next year in July.
To make a long story short DON’T GIVE UP ON YOURSELF, YOU WERE PUT ON THIS EARTH FOR A REASON ,YOU SURVIVED FOR A REASON.YOU HAVE TO LOVE YOURSELF BEFORE ANYONE ELSE CAN. I KNOW FROM MY OWN LIFE . TRUST ME YOU WILL FIND SOMEONE THAT WILL LOVE YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE AND FORGET WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. MY GRANDMA ALWAYS SAID TO ME YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS BEFORE YOU WILL FIND YOUR PRINCE. I FOUND MINE AND SO WILL YOU!
A Light on the Road – On June 8, 1988 I was an enthusiastic and active 9-year-old living in North Vancouver, BC. As I often did, I agreed to help my friends (two sisters) deliver newspapers and then go to see my brothers play baseball. When we finished …
A Light on the Road – On June 8, 1988 I was an enthusiastic and active 9-year-old living in North Vancouver, BC. As I often did, I agreed to help my friends (two sisters) deliver newspapers and then go to see my brothers play baseball. When we finished our newspaper delivery we got back on our bikes (the sisters were riding double) and headed to the baseball field. The three of us started out together but the sisters immediately went ahead of me. I found that in spite of riding hard I could not catch up with them. I eventually came to a two-way stop and looked only one way. An elderly lady in her car that was traveling west as I was riding south immediately hit me. She never saw me and I, along with my bike was pulled under her car and pinned beneath one of her tires. I was then dragged down the street over 60 feet until two guys got her to stop her car when they saw my feet, as she still did not realize that she had hit me, thinking the noise from under her car was a fallen muffler. Her car was then backed up so I was no longer underneath.
The accident took place only one block from my house, and neighbours hearing the crash called 911 and the ambulance arrived very quickly, along with the firefighters and police. I was found totally unconscious from the impact but still breathing and rushed to Lions Gate Hospital. My parents who were on vacation in New Brunswick; returned to be with me having been called by my Dad’s parents who were looking after us.
I was then transferred to BC Children’s Hospital and stayed there for 8 weeks for treatment and recovery. I had broken my shoulder, had several fractured bones and a lot of soft tissue damage in addition to a head injury. I had reconstruction work done to my face, and muscle and skin grafts to my shoulder. The skin for the grafts was taken from my upper right leg and put on my chest. Then in another grafting procedure they took skin from behind my ears to put on my face, which had been badly scraped from the dragging. I had to wear a Jobs vest and a Uvex mask for 18 months which I did without question, even though it was very hard.
My grandfather was there almost every day for me and my friends and parents came to visit me as much as they could. This was very important moral support and helped with my healing. I did lots of physiotherapy everyday and swam as much as possible, which helped me regain my strength and probably inspired my love of fitness today that includes running marathons.
When I got out of the hospital, the North Vancouver City fire fighters had a special day for me and made me “Fire Fighter of the Day”; giving all my family a tour of the fire hall.
Another part of the healing took place at Burn Camp. I started out first at the Burn Camp in Alberta with other burn survivors from British Columbia and got to take my first airplane trip. Then I luckily went on to the first Burn Camp in B.C. that now runs every summer, and I know that this was a big part of my recovery.
There was lots of press coverage about my accident including a story with CTV, so when I went back to school a video had been made to show all the kids in my class what had happened to me, and why I was wearing a mask. That understanding was really helpful to me as there is little education for kids around what it is to survive a burn trauma.
I am an active participant in The Future Is Mine program, and have presented my story and the video that was made for the school kids at one of the Peer Support Group Sessions. I also volunteer to help the firefighter’s put up the lights at Bright Nights in Stanley Park and have made many new friends through this program.
Recently, I had a very special and proud moment that happened to me “on the road”. I was honoured to carry the Olympic flame when it came to New Westminster for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and I will have that positive memory with me forever.
The Olympic Torch moment reminded me that light can be found everywhere to inspire us even in the darkest moments.
When You’re Against the Wall – Have you ever considered what life would be like if you could eliminate the pain from your past? You could be a different person; no burn injury, no hospital stays, no surgeries! Sounds great huh? But what would you risk …
When You’re Against the Wall – Have you ever considered what life would be like if you could eliminate the pain from your past? You could be a different person; no burn injury, no hospital stays, no surgeries! Sounds great huh? But what would you risk losing that physical and mental pain gives you?
Let’s go back even farther to you as a child, when your parents said “No,” and you felt pain emotionally. It was for your best good that you were not allowed to play in the street. If you disobeyed, you were going to have more pain from your parent’s correction. This pain caused a difference in your life, for better or worse, depending on how you responded; you may have gotten angry and rebellious, or sad and discouraged, but better yet, you could learn from your pain, and get on with your life. In my experience, with the combination of physical and mental pain that a burn injury inflicts, I have had all of these reactions, and have come to hate the first of these responses because they trapped me in pain and prevented me from moving forward.
I was eight years old when my life was threatened by gasoline fumes from a generator I was filling with fuel. The building was completely engulfed with fire and I was thrown against the wall. I thought my life was over, but I couldn’t just quit and die without doing my best to live. The generator was in front of the door—my only way of escape. Gas had sprayed all over the inside of the room; the heat was unbelievable. Which way to go? I thought that if the generator had exploded, then it would have blown me across the room against the west wall. Since I couldn’t see anything I turned around and took three steps and jumped, over the generator, and it was the door! I was out by a miracle, now how bad was I? I was still on fire, so I rolled on the ground to put it out. Here came Mom. Good, she was OK! I was so hot! Mom was trying to get my clothes off, but they only melted onto her hands. “Mom, the pond!” She put me in it to cool. My skin dripped off like hot wax.
My rescue by wheelbarrow to helicopter is an amazing story for another time, my point for this story is overcoming. Forty percent of my body had third degree burns and I freely admit that I had a lot of pain and fear. A burn injury is a very hard experience to learn lessons from, but the alternative to overcoming is anger and rebellion, sadness and discouragement. These pains can last and last. It’s amazing how a few seconds of fire can last a lifetime, continuing to create emotional turmoil, if we let it.
I have learned, like you have, that painful experiences force us to change. My choice is to change for the better with God’s help. I still fight against negative emotions, but less and less. And I believe that I have become a better person through suffering than I would have been without it. My pain has lowered my self-centeredness and pride, which is painful, but good. I now look for happiness in helping others, family, God, work, and knowledge. This brings me much joy.
If I could go back twenty-four years to that Friday afternoon and put out that pilot light that started my pain with such force, should I? Would I dare? What would I be like now? Is there a possibility that I would be self -centered and unhappy, but better looking?
If you were allowed to do anything that your selfish heart wanted, with no corrections from your parents, you would not be a better person today. When we learn and grow from our pain, we gain a character and stability that draws joy and peace like a magnet and brings the best out in ourselves and others. But if we hold on to our pride and keep the pain of our injury ever before us and others with the accompanying depression and anger, we will bring out the worst in ourselves and in others. I choose to learn and grow. It’s a challenge to become an overcomer, but now I am content and happy. (Well, most of the time!)
My advice to those who find yourselves blown against a wall: please don’t quit! Go forward! It may mean the difference between life and death. It did for me.