I’m sitting here tonight thinking of the Asian artist who was commissioned by a Texan to paint a picture. When the picture was complete, over in the left corner of the canvas was the branch of a blossoming cherry tree, and a small bird was perched upon a branch. The whole rest of the painting was a vast white space. The Texan was very unhappy with the outcome. “Please fill up this canvas. That’s what I am paying you for!”
But the artist refused, saying, “Sir, if I do that, there will be no room for the bird to fly.”
In our rewarding work at RyanShines we welcome so many fragile little birds who have been grounded by their burns.
Each one is an original–a one-of-a-kind Child of God. Every pediatric burn survivor is sent to us without “operating instructions.”
We discover their unique needs by loving them, listening to them and by witnessing their innate instinct to spread their wings and fly.
Not one of them has lost their wings. No fire can touch the gift of wings they were born with.
It takes tender care and fierce love to help them grow. These are all normal little children no different than yours and mine.
We work with them and their parents to restore their dreams of flying without fear.
In the past year, we have introduced you to Jenna, Brantson, Cameron, Kaleigh, Louie, Jadah, Brody, Lucas, Lovely, Alex, LeDreshia and so many more of our burn children.
These brave girls and boys have shared their frighteningly sad stories to hundreds of strangers. They have endured unimaginable pain.
Many will undergo multiple surgeries that could continue throughout their childhood.
Every week we will paint their profiles in courage for you. As always, you will admire them and draw rich inspiration from them.
But every last one of us must take a step beyond admiration.
To be blunt, we cannot meet the deep needs of these special children without you.
As you invest your time and treasure in what you believe in, allow your personal vision to include the earthy and air-born mission of RyanShines.
On April 5, 2003, J.R. Martinez, a 19-year-old infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division, jumped into the driver’s seat of a Humvee to lead an Army caravan into the city of Karbala. Suddenly, a landmine detonate beneath his feet.
Fuel-fed flames seared his clothes, burned his skin and incinerated the dreams of this high school football star from Dalton, Georgia.
While he was trapped inside the truck, he thought: “This is where my life ends. Everything I wanted to do no longer exists.”
He first felt sharp pain on his face, then, nothing. The flames had destroyed every nerve ending.
“I honestly thought it would be better if I hadn’t survived the accident.”
They placed him on a ventilator because of severe smoke damage to his lungs, and, then, began the excruciating ritual of removing dead, burned skin and surgically grafting healthy skin from unaffected areas of his body.
He sucked it up through more than 35 surgery procedures.
After all that, therapists put him through months of painful stretching exercises so he might once again lift his arms, straighten his elbows, open the fingers of his contracted hands, and turn his head from side to side.
He had to re-learn to walk. He spent 2 1/2 years in and out of the hospital. “It was tough, it was painful, but because I did those things, because they pushed me to do those things, is why I am where I am today.”
After seeing his face for the first time, he fell into a deep depression, uncertain what his life could hold.
However, one day, after speaking with his mother, “I made a choice that I was going to get through every single day. And the answer would come to me, and it did.”
He visited another burn patient and realized that was helping him, too. He began making regular visits to many patients. “That,” he says, “is when J.R. Martinez was born.”
He competed on “Dancing With the Stars,” and won.
As he raised his right arm and extended his left to clasp the hand of his partner Karina Smirnoff in an emotional salute to fallen servicemen and women, he symbolically reached out to fellow burn survivors, demonstrating with his scarred face and body that it’s possible to move beyond the dark days of doubt, despair and depression and reclaim a meaningful life.
You can help burn survivors, too. Ask me how!
To support us, please visit us at www.ryanshines.com or follow us on FB and IG @ryanshinesburnfoundation)
“My name is Jenna. It was Memorial day, and my mom and dad were getting ready for a cookout. I was three-years-old at the time.
Somehow the gas can in the garage got knocked over and leaked underneath the water heater. It started a flash fire.
Over 95% of my body was burned with 3rd and 4th degree burns.
My doctors and nurses did not expect me to make it through the night, but I survived.
It’s hard to believe it has been 15 years and 70 surgeries later. Through it all, my parents told me how hard I fought, and how I stayed strong and kept coming back! I am doing most everything I dreamed in my life.”
Jenna is like any other teenage girl, playing sports, going to prom, and having fun. From those first few wobbly steps she took after getting out of the Shriner Burn hospital, to her fancy footwork on the soccer field, Jenna is a walking and running miracle.
“Its been a real and scary roller coaster! I’ve had ups and downs. My focus is on what’s ahead for me as I get older.”
Jenna is taking almost everything with an openhearted attitude of gratitude, and so is her family; but she says what keeps her going are the friends she’s made along the way.
“I’ve gotten used to the stares, because I know it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But at our burn camps, I feel completely ‘normal.’ It’s like we are not so burned. We’re our own society pretty much.”
“I’d like to start a burn camp of my own in parts of the world that may not have one. That way I can motivate and inspire other burn survivors just like me!”
There’s something about living in a state of of gratitude, counting our blessings one by one.
The trick is to take those blessings and bless others like Jenna.
If you need some direction in how to help, feel free to contact me thru ryanshines.com.
Aaron’s life was 24 days old, when his biological father submerged him in scalding water, burning over 45% of his small body.
The doctors gave him less than a 10% chance of surviving.
Aaron was placed into a medically induced coma and underwent skin grafting, where they removed skin from his hip and used it to reconstruct his right ear.
Returning home after 4 months in the hospital, Aaron wore tight, full-body compression garments which caused him pain and severe discomfort.
He had a hard time sleeping, keeping food down, as he struggled to grow.
The doctors prepared his mother for the years of hard work ahead including a limited range of motion, significant scarring, and numerous surgeries.
With the skills and talents of medical professionals and overwhelming love from his family, Aaron survived and thrived.
After a traumatic injury, there are many difficult questions for a young man to understand.
Fortunately, Aaron enjoyed many visits to burn camp, where he learned that there were other children who had also suffered burns; allowing him to understand that he was not facing his challenges alone.
Today, at age 16, Aaron has grown into a happy, healthy young man who is realizing that he can do and become whatever he chooses.
He is still an active member of the Burn Institute family and now helps others facing the same challenges he once did.
He believes all people have challenges and that his burns are part of his life, but not something that defines him.
BTW-(If this is something that you would like to support, please visit us at www.ryanshines.com or follow us on FB and IG @ryanshinesburnfoundation
A South Dakota newspaper tells the story of firefighter Austin Whitney, 23, who is in the long and painful process of recovering from second and third burns over his body after the Coal Canyon wildfire.
Austin was trapped in the massive fire along with four fellow firefighters.
“What’s helping his recovery most,” his father said, “is the focused power of his mind.
His spirits are up and over the moon! Five days into his recovery Austin told me that this incident won’t stop him from being a firefighter. ”
“It was very hard for the family to wrap their hearts around the awful news of their son’s burning.
“A lot of emotions were streaming through my head at the time,” Robert said.
“We didn’t know how bad it was or what was going on, and it turned everything topsy- turvy. Everyone was frantic.”
Austin is following in the firefighting footsteps of his father, grandfather, aunts, and uncles.
His first season was with the “South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division,” a state firefighting agency.
But Austin had started fighting fires when he turned 18, joining the “Pringle Volunteer Fire Department”–the same department as his father and grandfather.
Then, he joined the “Cascade Volunteer Fire Department” the following year, and is co-captain now.
“His infusion of courage is growing in so many of us,” said Austin’s father.
“I am grateful that our lives would converge this way. What a wonderful world!”
(Thank you to Larry Kramer for his contribution to this blog).
It’s Saturday, October 13, 2001, roughly 3:00 in the pm, exactly 32 days after September 11; the horror of all horrors, my deepest rung of hell to-date. We’re on highway 83, along the Mexican border, in Texas, driving 70 miles an hour.
Out of nowhere, I hear a loud Bang!
Backfire? Bomb? My head exploding?
I notice Ron out of the corner of my eye.
He is tightening his grip on the steering wheel, trying to steer.
He loses control of the wheel. We are minus the tread on our rear tire.
There is no way to handle the crisis we’re in, our family’s SUV has started to skid.
Then it overturns.
We are rolling.
The car flips three or four times. We finally slide to a stop on the other side of the overpass.
That’s when our car burst into flames!
And my family and I are trapped inside.
We rescued everyone but Ryan.He died in the hellish fire.
We experienced all the pain there is, physically and emotionally. Light couldn’t crowbar its way into the dark night of the soul.
Did I tell you that we had two more little boys–Trenton and Colton. They were, along with Tyler, at the center of our recovery.
Moving to Alabama
We were in a fishbowl in South Texas. Most every day someone would stare, or ask about the accident.
We were known around town as the “sad family.” Alabama felt like the right place to keep moving forward.
We enjoyed life on Lake Martin, homeschooling the boys for 5 years. It has been our refuge and I have done my most creative work there. It is our home and a quiet place to remember Ryan.
The boys are in school in Birmingham now, it’s where we have found community. It is also the place where we connect with pediatric burn survivors and firefighters.
I’ve been through hell and back and I’ve wondered if there is a way I can offer what I’ve learned over these 16 years. I began writing down my feelings, and thoughts.
Suddenly I realized that I had all the makings of a blog. I publish my blog every week on Thursday.
It provides a way to help myself as I map my journey; but more than that, it gives me the opportunity to help others in their struggles.
Our Epic Trip
One of our sons suggested that we take a long learning vacation.
Everybody agreed. We spent almost every evening dreaming and talking about where and when. We decided to take a trip around the world.
I had been home-schooling the boys anyway, and this would be an epic field trip. We made a list of the countries each of us wanted to visit, and everyone prepared reports on their countries.
The trip was beautiful and challenging. We were all together. We were laminated.
The Camping Connection
We knew we wanted to establish a Pediatric Burn Camp to honor Ryan, and while we were exploring our options we discovered that firefighters created and ran burn camps around the country.
They invested heart and soul into the camps and the children! That grew into a partnership between our burn foundation (RyanShines) and firefighters.
We needed chaperones for our first fishing event (“Catching Courage”).
Guess who stepped into the spotlight?
They didn’t need a lot of instruction.
They are “the naturals.”
Their way with our burn kids is enveloped in respect and genuine friendship.
Picture it: two heroes sitting together ‘sharing with understanding.’
RyanShines Burn Foundation
I love the sound of these two words that are hooked together like a train: RyanShines!
It is named for Ryan, of course.
But it comes from a work of art at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, TX.
It is a twenty-foot mosaic and the designer dedicated it to Ryan.
The mosaic is called “Ryan Shines.”
Out of that holy name came every good Gift that shines on the children and firefighters.
Our mission is that “no burned child be left behind, and no firefighter will be forgotten.”
Every year we take pediatric burn survivors and firefighters to Islamorada in the Florida keys.
The first year we took 7 firefighters and 6 burn survivors. This year, our 3rd, we are taking 40 firefighters and 10 burn survivors, from 6 states.
Peer Support Team for Firefighters
We realized that our firefighters are first to a fire. They rescue children, adults, and pets.
But who rescues the firefighters? Who stands beside them? Firefighters undergo injuries, grief, risk, fear, and death. Alabama is #2 in suicides over work-related deaths in the United States.
Ryan Shines is a proud partner in our state’s first Alabama Firefighter Peer Support team(ALFFPS). We are talking about ‘healing by listening,’ and putting them together with their peer-brothers who understand what really goes on in the body, soul, and life of a firefighter.
“Catching Courage” Events
These outdoor events consist of fishing, hunting, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and any team-building with pediatric burn survivors and firefighters.
This year we hosted our first Catching Courage Family Camp.
They are all designed to create healing, developing bonds between the participants, and building lasting relationships.
Our 5-year Plan
The future is as unlimited as the horizon. Here’s what we see ahead…
Organizing 4 Catching Courage events per year in each of the 50 states.
Taking a team of 4 firefighters from each state, each year to our Catching Courage event in the Keys.
Creating a statewide Firefighter Peer Support Team in every state that needs one.
Growing burn children into good, honest, productive and confident citizens.