Articles Posted in How to Encourage Others

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As a follow-up to my August 9 blog, I found a late-July article in The Los Angeles Times about 19-year-old Derek Thomas, a burn victim whose strong determination, positive attitude and faith have helped him to get out of the hospital and go home even though he was given just a 1 percent chance of survival when he suffered third-degree burns last year.

Nearly 300 people in Encinitas, CA welcomed home Derek, who was burned over 85 percent of his body in a car crash a year ago. The crowd of friends that gathered from the local high school, church and the YMCA where Derek once worked lined up along the driveway at Scripps Rehabilitation Services, where Derek is expected to continue physical therapy for several more weeks.

Upon his arrival from the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center the crowd began cheering, shaking pom-poms and waving signs that said, “We love you D-Rock!” and “I am not a body. I am a soul!”

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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.

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A very informative and heart-warming story came from the local newspaper in Portland, Oregon last week, related to the difficult process of emotional healing for victims of disfiguring third-degree burns.

The article explained the uplifting happenings that take place during a regular gathering of a group called Portland Burn Survivors Inc. In fact, the writer of the story seemed to be moved by one of the very first things the group does once everyone arrives at the restaurant–they make a toast that goes, “Cheers for being alive!”

The article goes on to say that until about 30 years ago, surviving a severe burn meant constant pain and medical complications that usually led to premature death. But technological advances mean that many more people today survive severe burns. The problem is, the emotional trauma of living with bad scars and other complications are very recent too, so there is not a lot of research about exactly how burn victims need to think and act in order to lead happy lives.

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When meeting a burn survivor, there are things that everyone can do to encourage and support burn survivors by having the right approach. Offering a listening ear will help theses survivors know that you are there to listen to them and make them feel at ease. Sometimes all that a survivor needs is to feel that someone is there to listen to him/her. Avoid giving advice and listen until the survivor finishes what he/she wants to say. If you feel that the survivor doesn’t want to talk now, don’t push them.

In difficult circumstances, a person who has been exposed to trauma will appreciate the presence of friends and family. Sometimes the best gift you can give a patient is an encouraging word. By being there even for a few minutes trying to help and comfort that person, your support will not be forgotten. During these visits, avoid showing pity, feeling sorry or blaming the survivor for what has happened as your purpose of being there is to strengthen, encourage and guide that person to get through the hard times. Don’t speak about your past trauma; make it about that person as this is the purpose of the visit.

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