Articles Posted in Survivor Story

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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.

J.R. Martinez is living his life to the fullest, even though he still does not look or feel exactly like he did before he was injured. He has become comfortable with his “new normal,” and he looks at his life through that lens. But–and this is the important part–he does not let the fact that he is different than he was before hold him back from anything, or even slow him down one bit.

One thing J.R. makes sure to do each day is to count his blessings, looking at all the good things and good people in his life, so that he keeps his mind in a positive, healthy place. This is something all burn victims can do, as they heal both physically and psychologically from their severe burn injuries.

Always think of things this way: If J.R. Martinez can suffer disfiguring burns across his face and still be a TV star, you can do almost anything you want with your life, and you can lean on your family and friends–and the people at the Phoenix Society–along the way.

If you or someone you know does suffer a severe burn injury or a smoke inhalation injury, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a solid legal case.

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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.

Harry suffered severe burns over most of his body and face, including lung burns. He would spend the next seven weeks in a coma. Still, Harry was one of the very few people in his entire office to survive.

“I was seconds away from joining my friends on the 104th floor and those seconds were the difference between my survival and my death,” says Harry, who is now 60. “I feel lucky.”

Harry and a woman were going up towards the tower’s 104th floor when the elevator started to shake. Then, without warning, it plummeted and erupted in flames. “Everything seemed to be in slow motion,” Harry says. “There were flames on the floor, carpeting, on the walls.” He said he frantically stamped out the fire with his canvas briefcase.

The elevator stopped short, but then started gliding down toward the elevator bank on the 78th floor. For a moment, Harry thought it would be all right. But a few floors above him, a fire swept down and engulfed the elevator once again. “A fireball came in the gap of the door and this one caught me square in the face,” he says.

The fire disappeared quickly and then the elevator doors opened to the 78th floor. Harry and the woman joined the flood of shell-shocked workers marching down the emergency stairs. “At such a moment, you’re not thinking deep thoughts. You are reacting,” he says. “What went through my head is, ‘I have to get down and find help.’ That’s all I thought about it. I had no thought about how injured I might be.”

About 25 floors down, an emergency worker spotted the badly burned man and cleared the path down for him. He was rushed to New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center’s burn unit and placed in a medically induced coma for eight weeks.

Harry awoke to the news that he had suffered third-degree burns across his face, arms, hands and legs. Then he learned that terrorists had slammed a plane into the tower. And then, while lying in his hospital bed with his wife standing over him, he got the worst news of all: Most of his coworkers were dead.

Harry underwent intensive rehabilitation for months, and actually returned to his company in March 2004. But he only works about three days a week, and has constant back pain plus nerve damage that reduces the strength in his left hand. Still, Harry counts himself fortunate. “I recognize how close I was,” he says.

Going back to work for his company was one way that Harry could feel that he had overcome the difficult circumstances that life put in front of him. And although he will have pain for the rest of his life, Harry knows he has the support of his coworkers, in addition to the love and support of his family.

If you or someone you know suffers a burn injury, please call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, NY so that they can determine whether another party is legally liable for your injuries and if you have a case.

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A recent article in the Myrtle Beach Sun newspaper discussed a topic that is very helpful to families who have a burn survivor among them.

In Raleigh, NC, yoga instructor Blake Tedder knows how difficult it is for children with burn injuries to face the world. In 2001, Tedder was 17 when he lost 35 percent of his skin in a plane crash.

Tedder was not prepared for the stares and comments after he regained health. Because of his burns, not only did his face stay bright red for a long time, but he also had to wear pantyhose-like garment on his arms. “I felt that I looked like a mummy,” said Tedder, now 26 years old. The idea of possibly not being able to play guitar or catch the eye of a girl was devastating, he added.

But at Camp Celebrate, a weekend retreat for children with burn injuries organized by the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center, he started to rebuild his confidence. “It just felt good to be around those who met me before they met my burns,” Tedder said.

Tedder returns to the camp this June as a counselor. The camp began when firefighters from around the state met 50 campers at Triangle Town Center and took them to the camp site outside Wake Forest University in a convoy of fire engines.

The children, between ages 7 and 15, spent the weekend fishing, canoeing and swimming with kids who know what they’ve been through. “Camp Celebrate is a celebration of human spirit and collaboration,” said Bruce Cairns, director at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals. The love from the volunteers, firefighters, and staff at the burn center keeps the camp going year after year, Cairns said.

Deb Rosenstein, a therapist at the burn center, started the camp in 1982 because other camps hesitated to accept children who were burn survivors. A year shy of its 30th anniversary, Camp Celebrate has evolved into an after-care program, offering a wide array of services to burn survivors of different ages. Over the years many camp alumni, like Tedder, have returned.

The camp is a rebuilding experience for many of its participants, said Anita Fields, manager at the burn center’s after-care program. She remembered one 14-year-old boy who vowed never to wear shorts or swim again. But at the camp he saw children jump into the water, and these children had been through the same trauma and undergone just as many, if not more, surgeries. By the end of the camp the boy wouldn’t leave the water, and he even climbed an alpine tower.

As a counselor, Tedder encourages the children to be themselves, despite the scars and disfigurement. Nowadays, he hosts a radio show, plays drums and goes on dates.

It’s Jon Hayes’ fourth year at Camp Celebrate. The watermelon-eating contest is one of the activities that draw him back. Jon, 10 years old, had second- and third-degree burns on his chest and left arm from when he tried to retrieve a soccer ball from a grill. He said his goal is to be a camp counselor one day.

His parents, Johnny and Debbie of Ocean Isle Beach, stood in the mall parking lot to see Jon climb into a fire engine. They said they know how much he misses seeing his friends at the camp and telling each other ghost stories. “It’s the ultimate camp experience,” Debbie Hayes said.

The Camp Celebrate experience has given Terrell Watkins a lifelong passion for serving children with special needs. Watkins was 13 when he threw a lit match into a can filled with gasoline, thinking he was building the greatest campfire in the world. The explosion engulfed him and burned 75 percent of his skin.

Watkins survived, but the flames left deep scars all over his face, arms and legs, and destroyed his ear cartilage. The staff at the burn center invited him to the camp, where he met other children who also had scars all over their bodies.

Now 34, Watkins has been a camp counselor since 1996. He played wide receiver for Winston-Salem State University and is now a special education teacher at Cliffdale Elementary School in Fayetteville. Because of his camp experience, he wants to return to school to become a licensed clinical counselor.

“This is what I tell the kids: ‘You’re going to get looks from people, but you need to be comfortable in your own skin.'” And it doesn’t matter whether your skin has scars or not.

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In October 2006, Camryn Higgins suffered second- and third-degree burns to 65 percent of his body in an accidental backyard explosion at his Bastrop, Texas home. It was a Sunday morning, and he and his family was cleaning up after a seventh birthday party for Camryn the day before. His father was getting ready to light the grill for some outdoor cooking. Camryn, carrying a few chairs, also grabbed a lighter to take to his dad. But he tripped on a sidewalk and fell, and somehow the lighter emitted a spark. This ignited fumes from a nearby gas can.

“The backyard was full of smoke and I started hollering, ‘Where’s my baby, where’s my baby?'” recalled Carl Higgins. “Finally he ran in front of me, and I noticed that he was on fire.”

Emergency crews blocked traffic on a nearby highway and a medical helicopter landed to get the child to the Burn Center at Shriners Hospital for Children, in Galveston. Camryn was put on life support and doctors worried he would not survive. But several days later, the boy awoke to his astonished and deeply worried parents. Then the recovery had to begin–which included very painful baths to keep him from getting life-threatening infections.

“I remember every morning before they told me to get in the tub room, they asked: ‘Do you want the pain pill or the pain popsicle?'” said Camryn, now 11 years old. “That tub room is no joke,” said Camryn’s father, Carl Higgins. “I don’t think a grown man could sit there and go through that pain those kids went through.”

“Every time it was time for him to go to the tub room, he called for prayer,” remembered Camryn’s mother, Katina White Higgins. “So we would call the pastor and pray early in the morning before Camryn went in.”

“He would not enter that room unless we prayed; that was the only way he would go in. He would say, ‘No, I’m not going in until we have prayer.’ And then they had a CD that he liked, so we would put his music on and it was easier for Camryn.”

“The hardest thing a parent will ever have to see is their child get scrubbed until they bleed,” the mother continued. “You see that blood flowing in that tub and it’s just a horrible thing. It’s like pieces of your child just going down the drain and it’s a horrible feeling.”

The scrubbings were designed to remove the dead skin from Camryn’s face, arms and torso. The medical staff at the Burn Center of the Shriners Hospital for Children rubbed hard to keep the boy’s wounds from becoming infected.

But the good news is that at her moment of despair, Camryn’s mom saw a therapist. “I went and spoke with the therapist and she gave me some really good advice. She said, ‘Write everything down; write it all down.'” The result of that is “Camryn’s Fire,” a book that lays out the journey this family traveled on their way back to physical and emotional health. It was a journey that took Camryn’s parents to the brink of divorce and their extended families to broken relations.

“I wanted to find out what was causing these things to happen and now I know the answer,” Katina White Higgins said. “The answer is I’m being made by God to do this, and I’m going to be so much better after this is over. We were strong enough to take it and make something positive out of it, so that we can be advocates for children to be safe.”

Camryn’s mom is working on a new book called “I Am Different But We’re All the Same.” It’s going to talk about a child who has been burned and who is coming back into the world with kids who are not burned. “We’ll touch on how the child will look different after being burned, but the heart is the same and the love and the friendship is the same.” Higgins plans to market the book in hospitals and schools to help children cope with such tragedies.

As for Camryn, here’s an update: Every day, he slathers a medical cream over his scars and then does a round of push-ups. He’s working out in anticipation of a summer football camp, to be followed by play on his school team in the fall. “When I grow up,” he said, “I’m planning on going to University of Texas and playing football there,” he said.

As for his scars: “My friend from a burn camp has her mom tell people that her burns were a tattoo from God showing his love,” said Camryn. “So I really don’t care what people think about how I look. I just care what I think. I think I look beautiful.”

Then he smiled and struck a few body-builder poses. His parents smiled back, like people who have felt a heavy weight lifted from their hearts.

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A story on the pro-golf website caught my eye this week, and it has almost nothing to do with the golf that is being played by the top male professionals.

This past week in Irving, TX, a burn victim who has had 52 surgeries, and who has just five working fingers out of ten, and who was blind for eight months, and who had to undergo intensive therapy sessions just to walk, talk, and eat again, took on a central role in the HP Byron Nelson Golf Championship, a big event in pro golf. That man, Jason Schechterle, carried the golf bag for his high-school friend Ted Purdy, who is a pro golfer.

Ten years ago, such a role would never have been dreamed of by Jason, Ted, or any of his doctors. Back then, Schechterle was a rookie police officer in Phoenix. One night, his squad car was struck from behind by a taxi driver traveling more than 100 miles per hour. Schechterle’s car burst into flames and for eight agonizing minutes, he was trapped inside.

Once he was freed, his life was changed forever. He suffered third-degree burns and even fourth-degree burns to more than 50 percent of his body. The skin on his face, head, and hands were simply gone.

Ted Purdy, who has won just one event in his years on the pro golf tour, is grateful to have Schechterle by his side as he plays. “I knew if I had him carrying my bag, I’d be inspired,” Purdy said. “But he turned me down initially.”

Why? Because “this is pretty serious business,” Schechterle says. “This is Ted’s job.”

Schechterle eventually changed his mind because he knew he would enjoy it. He also knew that caddying at a pro golf event would help get the word out about his non-profit foundation, Beyond The Flames, which raises money for people who have suffered a loss or tragedy or need inspiration as they seek to return to a normal life.

He also knows one other thing — golf. Not only did Purdy and Schechterle play together in high school, they continue to play together now. Last year, at a two-man team event held in Scottsdale, AZ, they finished 13th out of 62 teams.

Schechterle, amazingly, has improved as a golfer since the crash. He plays at least twice a week and regularly shoots in the low 70s, which is close to being a pro. He plays with special clubs made by John Solheim at PING, a leading golf-club maker; the clubs include oversized grips, and he uses fingerless gloves to help secure the grip.

Getting back to the course and playing a sport he loves was one of the motivation factors Schechterle used in his desire to return to a normal life. “I’ve played golf my whole life. And I wasn’t going to accept shooting 90 or 100. I wanted to play well again.”

As more people learn about Schechterle’s story, he’s become a fan favorite. Purdy said that after he hit his ball near the crowd a couple of times during one round at the tournament, the fans surrounding his ball wanted to shake Schechterle’s hand.

Although there are no specific commitments to team up again beyond this week, it’s likely that Schechterle will carry the bag for Purdy on a few other occasions. Purdy says that “he’s excellent at it. Jason reads the greens well when I am putting.”

As much fun as Schechterle is having, he’s intent on increasing his motivational speaking engagements and spreading the word about his organization. He expects to give 100 or more speeches this year.

Does Schechterle’s motivation work? It did for Purdy. He had played poorly for much of 2011, but he made the cut at this event.

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In a blog post on April 26, we wrote about young kids from other countries who were getting life-altering surgery here in the United States to save them from a life of pain and disfigurement from severe burns.

Well, here is another such example, which is good news for a young victim of third-degree burns who lives in Congo. In Boston this week, a badly burned Congolese boy is recovering from reconstructive surgery at Shriners Hospital, and his expected quality of life is much better than it was before the surgery.

Unfortunately, he was playing hide-and-seek on the grounds of a power substation back home in Congo, and 9-year-old Yusuf Badibanga was nearly killed because of it. He came in contact with some of the equipment and suffered an enormous electric shock, and was badly burned to the point of severe disfigurement.

Shriners Hospital plastic surgeon Dr. Daniel Driscoll said the boy was severely disfigured, especially on his right side, when he arrived in Boston. “His deformities include a lack of an upper extremity [an arm] on his right side, and he has problems because he has no external auditory canal in his right ear,” said Dr. Driscoll.

Badibanga underwent surgery to reconstruct his skin through grafts and to fix his deviated windpipe. Doctors said more treatments will follow–but this was a first step towards a life that is more normal and without as much pain as he would have had to endure.

Just as that good news was happening, though, an adult man in Longview, Texas became yet another victim of on-the-job severe burns that probably could have been avoided: The man, a worker at a scrap metal yard, was seriously burned in a tank explosion while he used a cutting torch.

Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian says the accident happened one morning last week at Youngblood’s Scrap and Metals. She says the injured worker, whose name was not immediately released, was being transported to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, which has a burn unit.

Brian says the accident involved some type of flammable substance in a tank, which exploded. The explosion was so strong that some nearby residents called police to report what they thought was a possible earthquake.

Whether or not the worker made a mistake in his work, or if his company wrongly placed him in a dangerous situation, is not clear. In such a case, it would be wise to obtain consultation from a personal injury law firm such as Kramer & Pollack in Mineola, NY. This firm specializes in burn-injury cases and can determine if a victim is entitled to a compensatory award that will aid the victim in their recovery and in their altered lifestyle going forward.

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In 1996 there was a devastating fire where a church deacon lost his life when his
apartment was set on fire by suspected drug dealers. Jackie, his wife and her3 children survived, but were seriously injured. Jackie suffered severe smoke inhalation and burns to her arms. Her oldest daughter also suffered from smoke inhalation along with 2nd & 3rd degree burns to her arms and legs. The youngest daughter and son who was 3 years old miraculously managed to escape with minor injuries.

After an extended period in the Burn Unit, Jackie and her daughter went home. However, the oldest daughter would require additional surgery at some point.
Resilience, determination, motivation allowed this family to survive the ordeal of not only losing a husband, but losing all they had.

It is now 14 years later, the two girls are now adults; the son is about to graduate from High School. There is a constant reminder when mom and daughter look at the scars that were left–not just the physical ones , but the emotional ones
The family has survived their ordeal. Of course it was a struggle trying to survive not only the physical impact, but the emotional trauma.
It’s like a container of milk that spills; you can’t pick it up and put it back into the container

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The Associated Press reported today that a Texas construction worker, whose face was completely disfigured by third-degree burns suffered when he fell into an electrical power line, successfully underwent the nation’s first full face transplant in a Boston hospital last week.

Dallas Wiens, 25, received a new nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves from a recently-deceased person. The operation was paid for by the United States armed forces, which is trying to learn more about how to help soldiers who suffer disfiguring facial wounds.

In March 2010, doctors in Spain performed the first full face transplant in the world on a farmer who was accidentally shot in the face, and could not breathe or eat on his own.

Wiens will not resemble what he used to look like, nor will he resemble the unidentified deceased donor. The result will be something in between, said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a plastic surgeon who led a team of more than 30 doctors, nurses and other staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the 15-hour operation last week. As of today, Wiens was listed in good condition, and has even spoken to family members on the telephone already.

Wiens’ face was completely burned away after he came in contact with a power line while painting a church in November 2008. The transplant could not restore his sight, and some nerves were so damaged that he will probably have only partial sensation on the left side of his face and head.

Wiens’ grandfather said that “he could have chosen to get bitter, or he could have chosen to get better. His choice was to get better, and thank God that today he is.”

In fact, Wiens stayed motivated by the thought of being able to smile again, and to feel kisses on his face from his almost-four-year-old daughter. Wiens added that he also wanted the transplant because it gives hope to extremely disfigured people, rather than having to “look in the mirror and hate what they see,” he said. Wiens also hopes to become an advocate for facial donations, and he publicly thanked the donor family for their selflessness
The healing process is not even close to being over, however. Wiens will have to take medication forever to prevent rejection of the tissue that makes up his new face. He did not have insurance when he was injured, but Medicaid paid for the several surgeries before this one. Medicare will cover him from now on, under its disability rules.

To see several videos of Wiens all throughout his ordeal, right up to the present, click here.

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In April of 1984, Jerry White, lost his right leg in a landmine accident, he outlines in his book “I Will Not Be Broken” five steps to cope with disasters and achieve strength and hope.

  1. You have to face the facts: a person must accept the facts and the reality that this thing has happened and you can’t change it no matter what, you can’t set the clock back to the time before that incident. Sometimes suffering results from attachment to ideas and things more than the loss itself.
  2. Choosing to live: look at the future and say yes to it, look at your life and choose it to go in a positive way, don’t surrender to what happened, let go of the resentment and look always forward and not backward.
  3. Reaching out: after the incident there may come times of isolation and loneliness, break these times by reaching out to friends, family and people who have been through similar circumstances, don’t wait for someone to reach you, it’s up to you to reach to someone.
  4. Get moving: take steps to move on with your life, step out of your house to generate motion, take responsibility for your actions, see what steps you can take to return back to your normal life.
  5. Giving back: sharing your experience, skills and talents with others to inspire them to do the same. Survivors are in a special position to help and encourage others to heel and fulfill their potential. With the right support all survivors can heal and thrive. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “It’s one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
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From the book “I will not be broken” by Jerry White.

Survivor X was disabled during the civil war that took place in 1978 in Eritrea. In the beginning he was saying “Now my legs are injured, what is going to happen to me?” But this didn’t keep him down. He quickly got rid of these thoughts because he realized what happened to him, has happened already and he can’t change the past. He stopped thinking about what happened to him and instead started thinking about what he can do. He started thinking about going back to work and taking control of his life, because if he doesn’t do that, nobody is going to do it for him. All the bad thoughts that were in his mind were gradually diminishing until they were completely gone.

He now takes care of his elderly mother, and helps cultivate the land for elderly and challenged people in his area. In return for working their land, he shares the produce with them and also get to keep a share for himself. Survivor X doesn’t see himself as a challenged person because he was able to work and give back.