Burn patients reconnect with fellow survivors

Sharon Snow and Shelle Hughes exchanged a big hug when they saw each other at a Burn Survivors celebration and picnic Saturday at Sedgwick County Park.

Snow, 66, was severely injured when she was trapped inside a house fire in 2006. Doctors gave her a 2 percent chance of survival. Hughes, 48, suffered burns in 2010 when the riding lawn mower she was pouring gasoline into blew up.

“It was quite an ordeal,” Hughes said.

Both have recovered from their injuries. And both now help other burn victims as volunteers with SOAR, Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery.

It’s easier to talk to someone who’s gone through it, Snow said.

“I want to help other people,” Snow said. As a burn victim, “you know what it’s like. I’ve been there.”

Snow and Hughes were two of about 90 who had registered to attend the fourth annual celebration. That included about 20 burn survivors from age 2 to senior citizens.

Nurses and others from the Via Christi Burn Center, which sponsored the event, were also in attendance.

“We have a lot of burn patients who come through our unit,” said Curt West, a social worker with the unit. “Some are here for a short time; some are here for a lengthy period of time. Our goal is to bring those people back. The biggest reason we do it is to get (them) to connect with each other.”

There’s a physical and emotional aspect to being a burn victim, West said.

“We can learn from these individuals,” he said. “They can be a model for some of the newer burn survivors.”

They educate and encourage one another, West said.

That was important, Hughes said.

“I needed to know what’s going to happen with my life,” she said.

Burn victims typically have a lot of uncertainty, sadness and depression, Hughes said.

And they have a number of questions.

They want to know, “what am I going to look like? How is my life going to be now? How long is it going to take to heal? Am I going to go back to work?” Hughes said.

Hughes, a radiology technologist at Salina Regional Hospital, was off work six months.

“I feel lucky to be here,” Hughes said.

The partners, spouses and friends of victims also need support.

The celebration also lets staff reconnect with former patients.

“Once they leave the hospital, we don’t see them,” said West, the Via Christi social worker. “It’s a chance for us to reconnect with them as well.”

Karen Kelman, a nurse at the Burn Center, said it’s good for burn survivors to know they’re not alone. There is hope.

“It’s just not the burn you take care of,” Kelman said. “It’s the heart and the soul and the spirit.”

Saturday’s celebration is also a way to connect burn survivors with available services.

“We ask what can the Burn Center continue to do for you,” West said. “How can we support you so people don’t feel like they’re out there on an island on their own.”