There was a terrific article written for the Associated Press this past week about burn survivors and their path to living normally again. Here is part of that article:
Three dozen hotel housekeepers are focused on 62-year-old Sharon Everett. She's helping lead sensitivity training at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati in advance of the Phoenix Society's annual World Burn Congress held each year in late September. It will be hosted by Shriners Hospital for Children - Cincinnati, and is being held in this city for the first time.
She's come to prepare the hotel staff for a conference that will draw hundreds of burn survivors from around the country, as well as family members, burn care professionals and firefighters. She also will tell her story.
On July 9, 2000 Sharon was returning home from the grocery store. Her shopping bags sat on the floorboard behind the driver's seat, and included chemical products for the family's pool.
But as she pulled into the driveway, the car's interior suddenly burst into flames. Fire officials said the blaze ignited when the pool chemicals leaked and mixed with other grocery products. Her husband George said "I thought I lost her. I thought she was gone." Doctors thought so, too, at first, saying she had almost no chance to survive. Sharon had suffered third degree burns across 60 percent of her body. Her head and face were most severely burned. Her nose, lips, eyelids, ears and hair were gone.
Sharon remembers nothing of the fire. She was placed in a drug-induced coma for five months so skin grafts could take. "Her body had to work so hard to heal," says her daughter Patty, the youngest of the Everetts' five children. The family lost track of the number of surgeries Sharon endured.
After nine months in the hospital and a rehab center, Sharon came home, and the responsibility to provide burn injury care at home fell on her family. They changed gauze dressings, massaged burn scar tissue, and put on compression garments to reduce scarring.
"We took turns breaking down," says oldest child Katie, now 40 years old, who quit her teaching job to help care for her mother. "So when one person was feeling down, somebody else was always there to pick us up. And Mom was always the perfect patient. She was never complaining."
Sharon, who had to relearn tasks like how to feed herself, was bolstered by her family. "It's kind of like I had to live up to their expectations," she says. "It was the strength in them that helped me do it."
The Everetts say they were lucky to have the support of their family, community and church. Because of the generosity of others, they didn't have to make a meal for about a year after the accident. Still, "you feel so helpless," Katie says, "like you're the only ones who've ever been through this traumatic injury."
Katie searched the Internet and found the Phoenix Society, a Grand Rapids, MI-based burn support organization. The society's 2001 World Burn Congress was in Grand Rapids. At Katie's urging, the family rented a large van and headed north, less than a year after the accident.
"I was anxious about going," Sharon says, "because I didn't know what to expect. I was also excited about going. I knew we would learn something."
They met "so many people who had been through similar injuries, which was hard to believe," Katie says. "They were surviving, and thriving, and having a good life."
Says Sharon: "It was amazing to see people and what they had accomplished, and to see them having a good time. Laughing. Dancing."
She hasn't missed a conference since. She and George and various family members have traveled to Vancouver, Sacramento, Phoenix, New York and other cities.
The Everetts say the conference is like a family reunion where people share stories. "When you hear a story, it's not only healing for the person telling it," George says, "it's also healing for those that are listening, because a lot of them have been through similar circumstances."
The burn conferences have helped Sharon meet other challenges. She's no longer uncomfortable when going out to restaurants and shops. She's no longer preoccupied with people staring at her.
She's still bothered, though, when a child sees her and is visibly upset. She doesn't like it when an inquisitive child is quieted by a parent. "I would rather people ask than wonder. Especially children. I make my answer very simple - 'I was burned, but I'm fine now.' I don't want them to worry about me."
She acknowledges sometimes feeling discouraged. Recovery, she has learned, is a lifelong process. "I have to look at this face in the mirror every day," she says. "Most days, that's fine, I can deal with it. But there are days I get down."
But she knows that nobody goes through life unscarred, whether emotionally or physically. She tells other survivors: "You're going to have a bad day. Don't let that become your way of life. You'll get past it. Your life may be changed, but it's not over. And in some ways, it's going to be better than it was before."
Eleven years after the fire, Sharon volunteers weekly at the hospital's burn clinic, where she visits patients that need someone to talk to. She also volunteers at her church and does gardening and takes takes dance lessons. And "I'm really enjoying my grandchildren," she says.
If you or someone you know suffers a burn injury of any type, you should 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 solid legal case.