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.