Chris Gilyard, featured speaker at today’s World Burn Congress general session, uses the words “Walking Through the Ashes” to describe her burn injury experience and her journey through years of recovery. Thirty five years ago, burned in an auto accident at the age of 17, she suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns on 21% of her body, with her face having some of the deepest burns.
Chris explained that, although the physical pain and recovery in the burn center was intense, the emotional healing from her injuries was equally devastating. She described how, upon first seeing her reflection in the mirror, she thought ” I don’t look like a girl anymore…..who is ever going to love me?”
Upon being discharged from the security of the burn center, Chris explained, she had no support groups, websites, camps, school or social reentry, or social skills training available. They simply weren’t available at that time. She experienced the humiliation and pain of pointing, laughing, inappropriate questions, and hurtful comments. And although her family was loving and highly supportive, they did not have the skills or resources to handle the difficulties of going out in public and responding to the reactions of others.
Chris stated, ” I felt so alone”.
Chris compared the available resources and assistance she had during her journey, and what she wouldn’t have done to have the resources that are offered by the Phoenix Society today, such as SOAR, for a peer supporter who has “been there” like she had; for social reentry skills, such as the Phoenix Society’s “Beyond Surviving:Tools for Thriving”, to help with going out in public; and for a school reentry program such as Phoenix Society’s Journey Back, to help with the challenges of returning to school. Although she didn’t have these tools, Chris did rely upon the support of family, friends and therapy on her journey to recovery.
She described the breadth of her journey, including a pivotal point where another family member experienced a severe burn injury, and how this motivated her to pay it forward by becoming a Burn Support Representative at Regions Hospital Burn Center, in St. Paul, Minnesota. She stated she learned “the journey is much easier to do with someone by your side.”
Today, Chris is married with 2 sons and works in private practice as a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist in Minnesota, offering caring and healing for those struggling with burn and other types of trauma.
Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors continues to be the central hub for resources for everyone affected by burn injury, offering peer support – SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery), online learning courses, online support chat services, the Journey Back resource for school reentry, and many other educational tools and resources so that burn survivors and their families can live productive and fulfilling lives. No one has to travel the road of recovery alone. More information is available for these resources at http://www.phoenix-society.org.