Articles Posted in Survivors Stories

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The lone survivor of a small-airplane crash in southeast Kansas recently underwent skin graft surgery to treat third degree burns across 28 percent of her body. Hannah Luce of Garden Valley, Texas, a recent graduate of Oral Roberts University, was flying with four others to a Christian youth rally in Iowa when their twin-engine Cessna crashed northwest of Chanute, Kansas.

All the other people, including the pilot, died in the crash. Hannah Luce is the daughter of Ron Luce, an Oral Roberts trustee and founder of Teen Mania Ministries, which was sponsoring the rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She was treated at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas. A spokesperson there said that Hannah was in serious condition but was expected to make a full recovery.

“She went into her first surgery for skin grafts on burns she suffered on her left leg, her arms and her hands,” said a spokesperson for the family. “The doctors are saying it’s a miracle Hannah didn’t suffer more internal trauma.” Hannah was off a respirator and breathing on her own several days after the crash, and was awake and answering questions before surgery.

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Zane Wetzel spent 47 days in a coma, and awoke to the realization that he was involved in a life-changing accident. But with the love of his wife and unwavering faith and optimism, he and his wife have gotten to a place where they can actually help other burn victims too.

It has been a little more than two years since the 27-year-old apprentice lineman for Maine Public Service Co. in Presque Isle, Maine suffered a flash burn to 50 percent of his body while working at an electrical substation. His chest, back, arm and neck suffered third degree burns in the accident.

Wetzel was standing on a scissor lift with several other co-workers when a charge of electricity arced and touched the corner of the lift. The electricity traveled to the ground and bounced back, burning him. Safety equipment prevented Wetzel from being fatally electrocuted. And no one else around him was injured.

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Earlier this year, a man in Portage, Indiana, was placed into an induced coma after an industrial accident at the steel mill where he worked left him with third degree burns over 55 percent of his body.

The accident happened one evening at the ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor plant, when a high-pressure steam hose ruptured from where it was connected to an oxygen furnace. Gabe Rocha, a salaried foreman who transferred from the firm’s Inland Steel plant to the Burns Harbor facility about six months ago, was checking pressure lines that are part of the cooling system when the hose ruptured.

At the time of the accident, workers were investigating an alert that a steam pressure line had stopped working properly. While Rocha was looking into the situation, the hose ruptured with such force that it threw him about 200 feet, dousing him with steam.

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In mid-November, at story in the Gaston Gazette from North Carolina covered the long, very painful, but ultimately successful recovery of Lucille Camp. Lucille is a 70-year-old woman who found the inner strength to survive and even modestly recover from third degree burns she suffered across half her body nearly three years ago.

Today, Lucille can stand from her wheelchair to take crutches and, with help from her daughter Sandy Johnson and nurse Judy Tate, slowly walk across a room. Johnson said her mother’s fierce determination has kept her alive and improving since being caught in a house fire in January 2009. When that happened, Lucille was taken to the Wake Forest Burn Center in Winston-Salem, where doctors told the family that she wouldn’t make it through the first 24 hours.

Lucille not only survived, but she has continued to amaze doctors with her small improvements over time. But her recovery has not been steady, and it is very trying not just physically but psychologically. The assistance of workers from Palliative Care Cleveland County, a local group, has been essential to Lucille’s progress.

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There is an uplifting story on CNN.com today about a burn victim who is not only is healing physically from his burns, but also psychologically. Here’s the proof: The boy, Youssif, was given a “certificate of citizenship” recently, which is an award for being exceptionally nice to a fellow classmate in school. Another boy got hurt, and Youssif helped the boy with his gashed arm by applying an ice pack and helping to stop the bleeding.

Youssif is proud of his award–and his family, his doctors, and his entire support system should all be proud as well. Four years ago, Youssif suffered third degree burns to his face–much of it melted, actually–during a battle among local sects in Iraq. But after dozens of surgeries in the United States, doctors have been able to reverse a lot of the horrible burn scars. Not only that, but Youssif is no longer the sad, quiet child he was in the few years after his burn injury.

Through extensive counseling with his family, he is now able to cope with the facial scars he still has from the attack, and he also has an upbeat attitude that’s hard to believe. He says his looks no longer bother him, “because none of my other friends make fun of me,” he says in English. His mother is so happy to see her boy like he was before he was burned. “His personality has changed so much,” she told CNN.com. “The way he interacts with people, and everything else. It began as soon as he started school and realized that the children don’t care about his appearance. It allowed him to have a normal life.”

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On this day before Thanksgiving, as everyone wraps up their work and other responsibilities and focuses on enjoying the long weekend with loved ones, it’s the right time for victims of severe burns to step back and consider the good in their lives. And there surely are several positive things, and positive possibilities, in each person’s life, no matter how difficult the circumstances of one’s burn injury might be.

This point is driven home by someone like J.R. Martinez, the U.S. military veteran who has overcome second degree burns and third degree burns across 30 percent of his body to be a motivational speaker (partly through the burn-survivor support group Phoenix Society), a TV actor, and now a winner on the TV show “Dancing With The Stars.”

When J.R. was first injured in Iraq in 2003, he was not only in significant physical pain but was also very distraught over how he looked because of the burns across his face and head. But he kept saying to himself that things will get better as time goes on, and this positive attitude (plus 22 surgeries) have helped him to feel so confident that he is fearless in front of TV cameras and large in-person audiences alike.

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An August 15 article in the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota told the story of firefighter Austin Whitney, who is in the long and painful process of recovering from severe burns across thirteen percent of his body. He received those second degree burns and third degree burns after the Coal Canyon wildfire trapped the 22-year-old and four fellow firefighters.

What is helping Austin to make the best recovery he can is this: the power of his mind. “His spirits are just out of this world. He is in such a good mindset,” said Robert Whitney, Austin’s father, from outside the hospital room just two days after Austin was burned. “He told me that this incident isn’t going to stop him from being a firefighter.”

Austin Whitney followed in the firefighting footsteps of his father, grandfather, and aunts and uncles. This summer was his first season with the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division, a state firefighting agency. But Austin started fighting fires when he turned 18, joining the Pringle Volunteer Fire Department–the same department as his father and grandfather. He joined the Cascade Volunteer Fire Department the following year, and is now a co-captain. “It overjoyed me to no end,” said Austin’s father. “It excited me that he would take an interest like this.”

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In our last post on Wednesday, October 26, we talked about the many services offered at the new Grossman Burn Center in Phoenix, Arizona. But once a burn victim is released from a burn center like Grossman, there are still many challenges to deal with for the rest of their lives. But burn survivors can gain the confidence to move forward in their lives with the help of burn camps. In fact, every state in the U.S. has a burn camp.

Here is one example: In August 2011 a 10-year-old named Elizabeth Watson attended a burn camp in Utah, and came home feeling energized and able to better handle the complications in her life. When Elizabeth was younger, she hated the burn scars that wrapped around her legs, arms, feet and part of her head, thinking that they were so ugly. But over time, Elizabeth learned that the burn scars suffered from a propane accident when she was just 5 months old do not define who she is or how she looks. They are simply, as she says, “a part of who I am.”

Elizabeth attended the annual University Health Care Burn Camp at Camp Tracy in Mill Creek Canyon in Utah, along with 40 other young burn victims. They rode horses, went swimming, made music, and created arts and crafts over four days. All of this helped them build confidence that they can do whatever they want, and that their burn injury and scars won’t hold them back..

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An article back in July in the midwestern newspaper The Columbia Missourian told the heartwarming story of one woman coming to the aid of another woman who was the victim of third degree burns. This story also has lessons for anyone who kmnows someone who suffers severe burns.

Larisa Rudelson never knew Albina Lewis until she went to visit her in the burn unit at University Hospital in Columbia, MO. Both women are originally from Russia and now live in Columbia, so Rudelson understands that being away from one’s home can be very lonely, especially in such a situation that Lewis found herself in.

On February 23, Lewis’ apartment caught fire, and she could not escape in time to avoid being badly injured by severe burns. Her arms, hands, ears and one of her legs were damaged, but fortunately her face did not receive burns as serious as those on her extremities. These burn injuries kept her in University Hospital for more than four months, and recently she was moved to the St. John’s Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital in St. Louis.

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Over the past month, there have been so many stories about people who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. But here is a story that appeared in the New York Daily News recently that is an excellent example of a survivor who is getting on with his life, and all burn victims can learn from him as they fight to get through their physical and psychological injuries.

Tax lawyer Harry Waizer was ready to get to work when he took the elevator up to his World Trade Center office just before 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. Harry was 50 years old at the time, and the father of three children. If he had been just two minutes later to work that day, he would have been able to go home that night and tell his family how he escaped. Instead, he became a victim of severe burns that affect him 10 years later, and which will affect him his whole life.

Harry managed to get out of the building a few minutes after the first plane struck his building, but he was severely injured by fire across his entire body. When the plane hit the top of the building, the elevator he was riding in suddenly went into a freefall and burst into flames–not once, but twice.