Encouragement · healing-over-pain

“This incident won’t stop me from being a firefighter”

  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.
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Austin was trapped in the massive fire along with four fellow firefighters.
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“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.”

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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.

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“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).

dawn

Encouragement · Hope · Relationship

The story of Ryan Shines

The Accident

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.

woman & cross keem-ibarra-560576-unsplash

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.

Impossible!

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. IMG_5046

We rescued everyone but Ryan.He died in the hellish fire.

The Recovery

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.

2010 to 2011 Argentina to London 059
Trenton, Colton, Tyler and Chloe

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.

My Blog

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.

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Me, Tyler, Ron, Colton and Trenton in France

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.

China Suzhou?
Hirn family in China

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.

Firefighters

We needed chaperones for our first fishing event (“Catching Courage”).

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Guess who stepped into the spotlight?

FIREFIGHTERS!

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.

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“Ryan Shines” mosaic in Children’s Pavilion of IMAS, McAllen, TX

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.”

Islamorada

Every year we take pediatric burn survivors and firefighters to Islamorada in the Florida keys.

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Catching Courage Keys Edition

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.IMG_7054

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.

 

Thank you for listening, my dear friends.

dawn

Encouragement · Faith · healing-over-pain · wounded healer

Rising from the ashes

“My name is Lisa Beckwith. I was burned On November 9, 2017.

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Lisa

It was a beautiful fall evening and my family and I were outside enjoying a nice fire in our fire pit.

After a while, my husband and teenage daughter and son went in for the night.

I loved the quiet privacy.

When I decided to turn-in for the night, I stood up out of my chair and stepped on the left corner of my robe and fell into the fire pit.

My chin hit the steel ring and my hands broke my fall in the hot coals.

With unexpected strength, I pushed myself out of the pit.

I ran to the bathroom, splashed cold water over my face and grabbed a towel.

I honestly didn’t think that I had been badly burned. When I looked in the mirror, I was horrified.

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My son and daughter heard the commotion and ran into the bathroom to see what was going on.

They were horrified, too, seeing skin hanging from my face and hands.

They called my husband, who was already asleep.

He came running and, in minutes, had me bandaged and on our way to the hospital.

Upon arriving, the hospital determined I needed to be at a facility that was highly skilled at treating burn victims.

So I was admitted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center and into the Burn Center.

 

I was burned badly on the right side of my face and both hands.bs-lisa 2

A good amount of hair was burned as well.

Ironically, the robe I was wearing that night ended-up saving the rest of my body.

They skin-grafted both hands.

Then, in a few months, I had a second graft surgery on my left hand.

I have some limitations to what I can do with my hands.

I always will, but I am grateful the limitations are minimal.

My scars are deep, but wearing compression gloves helps me do everyday tasks.

Overall, my healing was miraculous.

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What I didn’t expect was the strength it takes to heal emotionally.

But I have a strong faith and that’s the main reason why I’m making such progress in my healing process.

I certainly have my share of bad days.

I allow myself to have them, but I refuse to focus on them.

I encourage people to find the good that is in everything. 

And, trust me, I mean EVERYTHING.”

dawn

Encouragement · Friendship · Hope · Relationship

Kaleigh: opening like a rose

Nobody knows how it feels to be a child on fire except other burned children. 

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Though I wasn’t burned as a child, I understand that many pediatric burn survivors turn into turtles.

They start hiding for a good reason.

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Kaleigh

Public scarring.

One of Ryan Shines’ burn kids, Kaleigh, was burned in an electrical fire.

She was severely burned on her arms, stomach, and upper legs.

She tended to keep her head down, feeling great shame.

Humiliation tried to take her down.

But our “Catching Courage” events raised her up.

I want you to meet the new version of Kaleigh.

She has spent much of her young life trying to come to terms with her burns.

And she is.

Even though the pain in her eyes was obvious, now you can see something new being born in her.

Kaleigh found her Sparkle. 

Let me give you an example.

She met a fellow 13-year-old burn survivor named ‘Lovely,’ and they began a wonderful friendship.

Every time they get together at one of our Catching Courage Events, they are inseparable and the sparks fly.IMG_7001

Their ‘God-sparks’ shine like polished steel. 

Let me tell you what happened to these girls early this month. 

One of our firefighters had overheard Kaleigh and Lovely talking together about their dreams of the future(this was at our Catching Courage family weekend).

They were saying how they wish they could be models someday but knew it would be impossible because of their scars.Kaleigh caught CC

Our firefighter shared how sad he was when he heard these two 13-year-old girls talking about their dreams of the future and what is not possible anymore.

A friend of his, who happens to own a dress shop–Jo Wells in Montgomery–decided to step into the situation, and open her shop and her heart to them.

“I want those girls to model my clothes in my shop,” she said.

So, she arranged a photoshoot and called us at “Ryan Shines” to invite the girls to come model for her.

The word spread like a great party.

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Heroes of Montgomery, AL Fire & Rescue

Countless firefighters from Montgomery climbed on board with us and even brought their big red firetruck.

Suddenly, there was an influx of new friends we didn’t know we had!

What a celebration!

Kaleigh:lovely:dawn
Lovely, Kaleigh and me

 

We were celebrating Kaleigh and Lovely!

And the dreams they were dreaming were already beginning to blossom. 

Kaleigh-dress

Don’t you just love that?!

dawn

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)

Encouragement · healing-over-pain · Hope

“My accident gave me courage and determination”

“My name is Cody, I’m 18, and I just began my sophomore year in college.

Let me tell you about my accident.

Some people started a trash fire behind the old boathouse.cody argo 2

They poured boat fuel on it.

The fuel ignited with the flames and, suddenly, I was on fire!

I was three at the time, and I was burned over 70% of my body.

My biggest challenge was getting back to moving.

After the fire and 46 surgeries, I couldn’t move around.cody argo 4

I was just stiff and wanted to sit in one place and never move.

I don’t really ever think about my scars, they are a part of me and they’ve been there basically all my life.

Even when I was little I never let them hold me back, but it was hard not being able to do the stuff other kids were doing for a while and it made me jealous.

But it was that very jealousy showed me that, ‘’hey if I want to be like them I gotta work for it!’’

So I did.

When I look back, my accident was positive.

It made me work harder than others.

My accident gave me the courage and determination to do that!

If I could tell everybody what I’ve learned it’s this: ‘DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED, because in a second your life could change, and things will never be the same.”

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And today?

Cody isn’t letting anything stop him, especially his scars.

“There haven’t been any huge problems.

My burns haven’t slowed me down at all.

Half the time I forget about them.”

 Cody’s story of perseverance has made him a regional winner in the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship’s Achievement category, which honors Alabama high school athletes” who have overcome personal hardship to excel on and off the field.

He has earned a $2,500 scholarship.

We at Ryan Shines respect him so much that we gave him our first “Ryan Hirn Memorial Scholarship.

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“I don’t want people to look at their scars and be ashamed; I want them to hold their head up and let their scars shine bright.

Our scars are beautiful!

Everyone says pictures are worth a thousand words . . . well, I’m a firm believer that scars are worth at least a million!

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dawn
Encouragement · Family · Hope

What happens on Elm street, stays on Elm street

The kids at school call me “Freddy Krueger.”

And they ask me about my “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

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As I talked with Louie I remembered some of the awful Freddy Krueger theme song.

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you

Three, four, better lock the door

Five, six, grab your crucifix

Seven, eight, gonna stay up late

Nine, ten, never sleep again.”

“Everybody’s got scars,” Louie said with tears. “I still got a heart!”

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Louie

He told me how great it was being with Terry.

“Watching him use humor the way he does really helped me out!

Now I’m always crackin’ jokes with the kids around me, and they are so shocked and can’t believe I can do this!” 

“Sometimes I tell them ‘I got attacked by a shark with laser beams.’

I make ’em laugh! I say, ‘Hey guys! I’m medium-rare and you’re raw!”

 

Louie is my friend and he’s in my Hero Hall-of-Fame. 

I see courage every time I see him. 

Dawn

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 @dawnraymondhirn)

Encouragement · healing-over-pain · Hope · wounded healer

The CHAR KING


I want to introduce you to Terry, one of our Burn-Survivors and a Firefighter to boot.
This guy’s a riot!

Terry pre

 

He’s survived 58 surgeries, and, at the same time, he is just hilarious!
He has personally helped many burn-survivors deal with their scars with humor.

 

They love Terry.
We all do.
He’s our hero. He is my friend and hero!
 
“The kids at school would stare at me and call me, “Char King,” he told me, “so I got a tattoo on my arm that says, “CHAR KING,”  and beat them at their own game.
Terry 'char king'
In fact, they laugh with me, not at me.”
 
“I, also, take control of conversations in the hall at school.
I decided it was best for me to tell them what happened to make me look this way, instead of leaving them guessing.
Or, I let them make up their own stories about what happened to me.”
 
“I figure if I can’t laugh at myself, what have I got?”

One of the things I learned from Terry is that humor helps us focus on what’s good and right with us instead of what’s wrong.a

 

dawn

#catchingcourage #ryanshines

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 @dawnraymondhirn)