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Burn Survivors Gather in Baltimore

Barbara Kammerer Quayle, left, helps fellow burn survivor Autumn Burton apply makeup at the World Burn Congress. (Photo credit: Jay Van Rensselaer)
What was to have been a festive, flaming rum drink at a Salisbury, Md., restaurant instead exploded in DeAnna Felix’s face, inflicting first, second, third and fourth degree burns on her face, neck, arms and waist.

Rene Florendo’s encounter with an electrical line outside his Lutherville home led to the loss of his left arm, partial paralysis of his right hand, six broken ribs and three fractured vertebra.

Dmitrius Dantinne, a horse-mounted officer with the U.S. Capitol Police, suffered burns over 35 percent of his body after being set ablaze by a tiki torch at a charity event.

These three were simply going about their daily routines when they suffered the terrible burns that would change their lives. And yet, they did more than just live: They survived. In other words, they overcame their injuries to lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Their stories and countless others like them were told at the Phoenix Society’s 17th annual World Burn Congress, the largest gathering of burn survivors in the world. Held this past August in Baltimore, it was hosted by Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore Regional Burn Center Community Fund, and the Metropolitan Firefighters Burn Fund.

It was the longstanding, unusually close collaboration between Bayview’s Burn Center and the firefighters that led the Michigan-based Phoenix Society to choose Baltimore over four other cities for the congress. “Johns Hopkins Bayview Burn Center and the Metro Firefighters have a great relationship,” said Amy Acton, president of the Phoenix Society, which draws its name from the mythological, centuries-old Egyptian bird that is consumed by flames but arises reborn from the ashes. “We were looking for a group of people who have the same vision that we have for the Burn Congress and one that demonstrates a real team effort.”

Founded in 1981, the 3,500-member Metropolitan Firefighters represents the fire departments of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Annapolis, Howard County and BWI. It raises about $200,000 annually for the Bayview Burn Center. It has purchased the center’s physical therapy lab equipment. It sponsors nurses and hospital staff who attend seminars and continuing education events and sends youngsters who have been burned to camp.

The events organized for this year’s World Burn Congress by the firefighters along with Bayview’s Burn Center and its Office of Public Affairs drew the society’s largest number of participants ever. Some 650 burn survivors, health care professionals and firefighters attended the three-day event, held at the Marriott Waterfront hotel. The annual gathering offers participants opportunities to share experiences and learn from one another.

Bayview’s Bob Spence with burn survivors.
One workshop for burn survivors and health care workers was conducted by Barbara Kammerer Quayle, director of the California-based BEST (Behavioral Enhancement Skills Training) program. A former grade school teacher, she suffered severe burns in an auto accident. At the behest of Robert Spence, director of Bayview’s Center for Burn Reconstruction, she has trained Bayview staff on how to prepare patients to deal with the distressing questions, stares and comments prompted by their post-burn appearance.

“What happened to your face?” Burn survivors learned in the workshop that rude questions like these should receive confident, rehearsed responses: “I was in an accident and appreciate you inquiry, but I don’t wish to discuss it right now.”

Quayle also praised the region’s firefighters. “They have an extraordinary commitment to helping burn survivors in every phase of their recovery,” she said. “I think people take it for granted in this community, but having firefighters supporting a burn center is not as commonplace as you might think.”

“There are a lot of burn centers that have no relationship with their firefighters whatsoever,” added Tom McLhinney, a 31-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department, president of the Metropolitan Firefighter’s Burn Center Fund and a member of Bayview’s Community Relations Office. He is encouraging similar collaborations in other states.

McLhinney said the firefighters’ commitment to Bayview’s Burn Center stems from their enduring concern about the people they rescue, as well as self-interest. “Quite a few of our members get burned. You hate to say you’re looking out for yourself, but we want the Burn Center to have the finest equipment and people possible in case we ever need it,” said McLhinney. “We’re the first ones to see the burn survivors. We want to know what happens to them.”

“It’s like reading a book without a last chapter,” said Ron “Yogi” Schreiber, treasurer of the Metropolitan Firefighters and a 24-year veteran of the Baltimore County Fire Department. “You never know how the story ends.”

“I tell burn survivors that every one of them is the last chapter in that book for firefighters somewhere. People often ask me, ‘Why do you guys run into burning buildings?’ Meeting survivors here at the World Burn Congress reminds us of why we take the risks we do.”

—Neil A. Grauer



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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