A Survivor Story – Helping Our Youngest Survivors Have a Positive Return to School

with teen girl

Lisa Donovan (Left) with UBelong participant

Lisa Donovan, burned in a car accident at 18 months old, grew up in a small town that wasn’t familiar with burn injuries or the challenges they present, especially as she prepared to start school. 

Most children could pass the mandated motor skill tests required for 1st grade admission, but for Lisa they felt like defeat. Her burn injuries left her with damage to her vision and scaring on her hands that made the required skills of balancing on a beam and touching her pinky to her thumb impossible.

The motor skill tests were only the beginning of the many challenges the Donovan’s would face. Because of the lack of education and the community’s unfamiliarity with burn injuries, Lisa and her family found themselves struggling with comments like, “it isn’t Halloween, take off your mask!” or a phone call from the school principal asking Lisa to stay home for a few days because her scars were frightening a new student.

While these were not everyday occurrences, they did shape Lisa’s school experience, and the recollection of the hurt they caused is poignant, even today.  As a result, Lisa became a Child Life Specialist and is ecstatic to be a part of the development of the Phoenix Society’s Journey Back school re-entry resource.

She reflects on her own experience and understands all too well the relief she and her family would have had if the school and other students were educated about burn injuries, encouraged to display empathy, and given the tools to ask questions in a positive way.  So much pain could have been avoided if Lisa would have had access to the coping techniques and social skills offered within the Journey back resource.

Lisa now works hard to ensure all families have the tools and support needed as they return to school after a burn injury.  Eleven years ago, she began working with Shriners’ Hospitals for Children as a Child Life Specialist – a familiar place for her, as she is a former patient. In 2003, while searching for information to send home with a family about to be discharged, she discovered the resources offered by the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. 

She quickly attended Phoenix Society’s World Burn Congress and later introduced the Phoenix Society’s SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) peer support program to her hospital in Boston. Today, Lisa continues to be an important part of the Phoenix Society family and the expanding programs we offer. She has assisted with the development of the Journey Back resource and materials, has shared her story in video productions, and currently volunteers as a facilitator with the UBelong youth and family program.

“Seeing families receive the help they need  and the knowledge that they are not alone after they leave the hospital, is extremely rewarding,” says Lisa.  “The fact that this entire program will be easily accessible online, with  videos, worksheets, and educational manuals for teachers, parents, and all professionals to help a child, is very exciting.  Even those that don’t have a local burn center can get the resources and support they need without leaving the safety of their home.  This is a resource that would have helped me through every stage of my school years.” 

No child should struggle alone with school re-entry, as Lisa did. Your support of the Phoenix Society and resources like the Journey Back school re-entry program are changing the lives of so many. Your 2013 Spring Membership Gift will empower so many like Lisa by providing the tools and support need to thrive again!  

donate_nowTo learn more about the Journey Back program click here and check back this summer to download the entire program.

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