When you call the Phoenix Society, you may notice something unique in this fast-paced world of automation–you receive a warm and personal “hello” from a member of the Phoenix Society staff. And something truly special happens when a burn survivor, family member, health care professional, or fire service member calls in need of support.
Our staff of 9 people greets thousands of calls each year. Those calls are quickly connected to the most appropriate member of our program team who listens to the caller’s need and works through a course of action for each individual. Although this is just one of the many hats our program team wears in their work at Phoenix Society, it is treasured. “These calls take me back to my days as a critical care nurse and allow me to connect personally with those we are here to serve” says Pam, Phoenix Society Program Director, who has been a registered nurse for 22 years. “For so many, their phone call is their first connection to support and the beginning of a transformation.”
A Life-Changing Phone Call
Maureen’s first call to the Phoenix Society in December 2012 was one of those beginnings. Maureen explained that she was burned at the age of 3 when hot oil was poured on the top of her head. However, the point she remembers really shaping her life was the first day of kindergarten in the 1950s. She arrived in class with a scarf tied over her head as she wore every day to cover her scars. It was when her teacher, unaware of her injuries, made her stand and remove her scarf that she froze in panic. Finally submitting to her teacher’s demand, she removed her scarf for the first time in public and remembers the gasps and comments that followed her as she ran down the hall to escape. Maureen, her family (including 6 siblings), and the community were unaware and unprepared to help her overcome the challenges she faced growing up with a burn injury.
For Maureen, this led to a life of isolation and constant struggle with confidence. The fear of people’s reactions kept her from taking off her wig or scarf and made it impossible to engage in daily life. She avoided experiences like getting a haircut, going swimming, or taking a walk on a windy day. It was easier to keep her scars hidden.
Fifty-seven years after her burn injury, in an effort to overcome her depression and connect with someone who could understand her feelings, she went to her local library to search the Internet for help. She searched “trauma,” then “burn trauma,” and that’s when a link to the Phoenix Society website appeared. She explored the online articles and resources with eagerness. One in particular helped “pull her out of her depression,” she recalls. “I read the Adults Burned as Children article and thought . . . ‘this is about me, I am not alone. . . these feelings are normal!’ I felt validated. A weight lifted and I called the Phoenix Society the next morning.”
Something Maureen said really struck Pam during that first conversation, “I want to participate in life instead of letting it pass me by, but I don’t know how,” she remarked. That call for help was the beginning of her transformation.
A Plan of Action
Over the next year Phoenix Society worked with physicians and social workers at the SOAR hospital closest to Maureen to further evaluate her physical scars, helped locate counseling in her local area and educate the center on the challenges of burn trauma, and walked Maureen through our online learning programs specific to empowering survivors with social skills. We also became her support system through regular emails and phone calls.
When Maureen first called, she had never met another burn survivor and “wanted to fix her burns.” After walking through the process together, she knows there is no quick fix for a burn injury, but now has tools to help her live life. It has become a team effort over the last year as most of us have had the pleasure of speaking with Maureen and were all very excited to finally have the opportunity to meet her in person. With the assistance of a Phoenix Society George Pessotti WBC Attendee Scholarship, she was able to attend the 2013 World Burn Congress in Providence, Rhode Island, and for the first time meet not only the staff with whom she had been communicating, but, most importantly, hundreds of burn survivors just like her.
For Pam, meeting Maureen at World Burn Congress was particularly rewarding. “I know the courage it took for her to step out of her house and fly to Rhode Island. It is so gratifying to see her blossom, make friends, attend sessions, and be empowered to live life,” she says. Describing her experience at WBC, Maureen said, “I finally feel like I am human . . . accepted and loved.”
Looking back at the feelings of isolationshe had endured throughout her life, Maureen remarked, “I wish I knew about this 57 years ago.” She encouraged other survivors to reach out, saying, “The sooner you call Phoenix Society for help, the sooner healing beings. But, it’s never too late!”
Our Goal for 2014
Every day we receive calls from
survivors like Maureen, but for every call we receive, the reality is there are thousands that have not yet connected to the resources and support they need to truly live life. In the U.S. alone, 450,000 people are treated for burn injuries each year.
The hands-on experiences of the Phoenix Society program team have made it clear that
our primary need, as we move into 2014, is to reach the thousands who are still struggling alone and are unaware that the Phoenix Society is here to help them on their journey of healing. Second, we must have the staff and resources necessary to respond to the increasing number of calls we are receiving.
Your donations made Maureen’s transformation possible. Your continued support ensures we can reach survivors sooner in their recovery and be able to guide them to the support they need to overcome their struggles. What a difference you make!