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.