Photo of Dianne Lowe & IsabellaDear George,
Thanksgiving is here and I couldn't imagine a better time to send you this thank you. Here's how you have profoundly changed my life.....It's an ordinary day at work and as I'm reading the local paper. I see an article about Gene Collier, a burn survivor who's attempting to reach other burn survivors and their families through The Phoenix Society Walkathon, Mothers Day weekend. In my head, I'm saying to myself, "What the heck is the Phoenix Society"? I read on and discover that The Phoenix Society is an organization dedicated to empowering anyone affected by a burn injury through peer support, education, and advocacy. I decide to go home and tell my husband that I am curious and compelled to go introduce myself, because I too am a burn survivor.
This is my story... June 3, 1975 was the day I suffered second and third degree disfiguring burns at the age of 22 months old.I'm told that my mom decided to have a BBQ that day with my two brothers who were 12 and 16 at the time. And as it started to rain, she moved the BBQ under the bulk head of our cellar. Charcoal was used then, and because they were wet from the rain, She apparently doused the charcoal with Starter fluid, lit a match and caused a huge fire that engulfed our home. My dad at the time was working across the street from our house while all of this was happening. My two older brothers survived with no physical injuries.
My mom died that day at the age of 27, holding me in her arms. I recognize that there are many hero's to my story, but my mom is my ultimate hero because she saved my life.
I spent my childhood in and out of Children's Hospital in Boston. During my teenage years I became deeply depressed. Somehow a Shriner knocked on my door and told me about Shriner's Hospital. I decided to give reconstructive surgeries a shot, thinking this would help my depression. It made it worse. My friends were out having fun while I was in and out of the hospital and going to the clinic every Wednesday. The last time I had gone to Shriner's a Social worker approached me and asked if I wanted to go to a support group. I abruptly said no. That day I also announced to everyone I was done with surgeries. I went on with my life. I Survived. That was over 20 years ago.
It's funny what you remember over the years; I have thought about that social worker and wondered what I might have missed out on if I had just decided to go to that group. Looking back, I think there could have been opportunities for me. It might have made transition into adulthood easier. I am now 36 years old, married and a mother of two and I am ironically, a social worker.
The day I went to the Phoenix Society Walkathon was a "meant to be moment" in my life. You see, it was a difficult day, because it marked the 2nd year anniversary of losing my daughter Chelsea Rose at 21 mths to SUDC (sudden unexpected death in childhood) a cousin of S.I.D.'s. Not only did I lose my daughter but I had also lost my faith. You and the people at the Phoenix Society Walkathon distracted us from grieving too deeply that day.
When my family and I got there we were immediately embraced by these people. I was overwhelmed by their kindness towards me and my family. I met Gene and his wonderful family who took me under their wings and who then lead me to being introduced to you. A nice man, I thought, but after I heard you speak, George I had never felt so comfortable in my own skin. You truly have a gift. I left that day feeling hopeful and as though I had just been reunited with my extended family. Then next thing I know, you offer me and family an opportunity to attend World Burn in NY. I was so excited that I ended up at the bus station a day early! I can only try to articulate into words how pivotal and life changing this experience was for me psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. I often tell people that, I believe that this was God's way of saying, "don't give up on Me, here's the awakening you've been praying for." Although we were in NY, I personally went to another realm. It was an experience with other burn survivors I had never had before. Hundreds of people like me walking around! I swear, the volunteer's there were really angels dressed up as ordinary people. I learned more about myself during group in those 3 days than I ever have. I found strength and identified with other peoples stories during "open microphone". I finally had someone teach me how to put on corrective make up. And what an honor it was to listen to Kim Phuc speak about her experience. Most of all World Burn reinforced what I already knew about myself....That I'm a survivor - not a victim. I went home with a new attitude toward myself and the world around me. Since then, I have joined the Burns Survivors Monthly Support Group in Boston and I have had some surgeries done. I also have this great tattoo of the Phoenix bird because I fell in love with its meaning. And lastly, George, I believe in your philosophy that there's no greater way to give back than to touch another human being by the power of telling your story. So like the Phoenix bird, I'm ready to SOAR.
A.K.A (gold nugget)