The circumstances varied — fuel burns, vapor explosions, trash fires.
But the sentiments stayed the same: gratitude and gratefulness for being alive and able to share stories of recovery.
The VCU Health Evans-Haynes’ ‘Burn Survivor Sunday’ event has, for the last 20 years, allowed burn survivors treated at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center the opportunity to share their survival stories and reconnect with the staff who treated them. It’s also a chance to honor first responders throughout the Richmond area who initially attend to and transport patients.
Evans-Haynes’ medical director, Michael Feldman, M.D., was at the event and emphasized his staff’s commitment to patient care and education. Evans-Haynes is the lone verified burn center in Virginia and treats a myriad of issues including the reconstructive needs of burn survivors and patients injured by fire, chemical, scalds and electrical burns.
“We know that our burn survivors are our greatest asset,” he said.
The event was emceed by Craig Bride, battalion chief of the Colonial Heights Fire Department, who referred to the gathering as a ‘motivational bath’ that’s needed to refresh and reenergize survivors and the community.
“We’re here to celebrate your successes,” he said. “Even though you all suffered a burn injury you all have different stories to tell.”
Many survivors shared their experiences through tears and even laughter. The thought of saving his cell phone from the 2013 trash fire that burned his upper body made Philip Cook, of Brunswick County, chuckle, though he knows the seriousness of his injury. His recovery took three months.
“Anything can be replaced besides people,” Cook said. “Everybody here, the firefighters are truly heroes. The staff here are the ones who motivate you to do better.”
Each patient who gave remarks mentioned several Evans-Haynes staff members who uplifted them personally while hospitalized.
Because of care he received as a burn survivor at VCU, Robert Vasconcellos is now working to be a volunteer at Evans-Haynes. Vasconcellos suffered burns on 30 percent of his body from gas that leaked on him as he was replacing a vehicle’s fuel pump in Ashland.
“Before this happened, I knew I wanted to do some kind of volunteer work,” he said. “After this happened I thought to myself, ‘This is it.’ And, the [staff] wanted me to do it.”
Also in attendance were fire officials from Richmond, Hanover and Chesterfield counties and other organizations that offer prevention and education about fire safety. Feldman was presented a $25,000 check by the Old Dominion Firefighters Burn Foundation which will fund education for a fellow to be trained at the burn center.
The seismic scope of burn accidents and the need for top-notch care is why training, education and funding are so important, Feldman said. The center treats between 400 and 450 patients annually, including pediatric and adult burn patients.
“There aren’t many burn fellows being trained,” he said. “That’s why support for our burn fellows is paramount.”
The unpredictability of burn accidents is what makes Vasconcellos most appreciative of his recovery. He attended the event Sunday with his wife and three children. While giving his testimony he mentioned receiving a note from a 9-year-old parishioner at his church that read, “Congratulations for fighting to survive.”
“It could happen to anyone. It’s an accident,” Vasconcellos said. “But God is good and we’re here.”
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