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Healing from a burn injury is more than skin deep

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In July 2018, Buddy Hughes lit a campfire to keep the bugs away as his family enjoyed a summer evening on the deck. Shortly after, an ember from the fire caught the fumes from a nearby gas can, igniting it and Hughes, a firefighter in the Verona Volunteer Fire Company in Verona, Virginia.

The recovery from third-degree burns can be a long one, said Michael Feldman, M.D., the medical director at Evans-Haynes.Hughes endured third-degree burns and faced recovery in the Evans-Haynes Burn Center at VCU Medical Center.

“Third-degree burns go through every layer of skin so it requires care from a multidisciplinary team to provide pain treatment, wound care, nutrition, scar management and therapy to help patients get back to their life,” Feldman said.

The lengthy recovery left Hughes exhausted.  

“I could not do anything besides sit on the sofa. I tried to push myself to do general things, like sweep, but it would drain me so much that it would put me down for one to two days,” Hughes said.

Although Hughes had a large support system in his friends, family and neighbors, he said he experienced emotional challenges as he recovered.

“I nearly had a breakdown about the way I looked and the way I felt. I locked a lot of things up inside that I didn’t talk about,” he said.

Talking about what happened is what brought him much-needed relief.

“I felt a burden being lifted when I started sharing my experience.”

Hughes will join more than 100 other burn survivors and first responders Sunday at a burn survivor event hosted by the Evans-Haynes Burn Center. The annual Burn Survivor Sunday will be held from 1-4 p.m. at the MCV Alumni House, 1016 E Clay St. Burn Survivor Sunday provides survivors an opportunity to share their journey and thank their care team. Evans-Haynes is the only burn center in Virginia that is verified by the American Burn Association.

“They are the best in the world. They saved my life and put me back together,” Hughes said.

This event is energizing for everyone, Feldman said.

“We get to see people who were very sick, survive and overcome. I always learn something that I didn’t know before, and that helps us continue to learn and grow,” Feldman said.

Hughes encourages survivors to use events such as Burn Survivor Sunday to share their stories with others who have had similar experiences. 

“It doesn’t matter who you talk to about your story, but it’s even better when you talk to other people who have been through it and understand exactly what you’re talking about,” he said.

Hughes is now back on the job as a volunteer firefighter where his day-to-day work renews his sense of purpose.

“I constantly see people losing their house, or in car accidents, and by being one of the first responders on the scene I like that I can be helpful and make a difference in those situations,” Hughes said. 

“This is my way of giving back to my community, because during my accident my community gave back to me.”