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.

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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.

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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

healing-over-pain · Relationship

E Pluribus Unum (Out of the Many, One”)

This is the Tenth Anniversary of the shooting death of Pelham Police Officer Philip Davis.

ff-Ofc philip

They tell me that there is one agency that understands the pain and that is the “Pelham Police Department.”

And we are grateful for our police officers and the ways they protect and serve our communities.

But there is more to this Anniversary Day than the tragic death of Officer Davis on I-65.

The call that came in over the wire was two dreaded words: “OFFICER DOWN!”

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The Pelham Fire Department also heard the call, and jumped in their truck and sped to the scene.

With them was Wes Green, a firefighter who had 15+years experience as a paramedic.   

The Firefighters arrived first at the scene and saw Officer Davis stretched out across the shoulder of the Interstate, bleeding profusely.

Officer Green discovered the entry point of the bullet that killed Officer Davis.

A trucker pulled over and knelt down to pray.

The Pelham firefighters stayed by Officer Davis until police cars began to gather.

When the police arrived, both departments began to work together as One.

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So, the other side of this Day of Remembering is the inspiration shown by the firefighters and the police officers as they worked together. 

The old motto of America adopted by the Founding Fathers is E Pluribus Unum.

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We honor this band of brothers, and what happened ten years ago in Pelham on I-65 . . .  “out of the many, one!” 

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

Adventure with Engagement AWE · Family · Relationship

Celebrating Thanksgiving

As I look back over the past year, I am thankful for the joy that has unexpectedly found me in growing RyanShines (our pediatric burn survivors and firefighters foundation).

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Catching Courage Salt 2019

It was like a bounty of unlooked-for treasures.

I like to call it “A Year of Heroes with a Thousand Faces!”

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Montgomery Fire Dptmt & Ryan Shines

What’s made the year different for me is that I have found a way through the sizable barrier separating me and firefighters.

I mean, who understands firefighters except firefighters?

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Some favorite firefighters at RSA tower stair climb

But that was not what I was trying to do.

I was working hard to build “trust” between us so that RyanShines could make a positive difference in their lives.

This was my hope, and I’m seeing it grow at little and large fire stations. 

 

I am thankful for their generous open-heartedness, and their willingness to live in a world of death and life to rescue others.

I am thankful that every day and night they risk their lives for strangers. 

Bottom line…I am Thankful.

I am thankful for our pediatric burn survivors.

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Brantson, Cory and James   Catching Courage Salt ’19

I am thankful for the bond that we have forged.

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Lovely, Kaleigh and me

I am inspired by their raw courage, the way they carry themselves, and the way they let us carry them.

Kaleigh-dress

 

Finally, I am thankful for you, dear readers, for the ways that you encourage us and keep us warm in your prayers.

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Lovely @catchingcourage salt ’19

Thank you for keeping us focused on our mission that  “no pediatric burn survivor be left behind and no firefighter be forgotten.”

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Catching Courage Salt ’19 kids

with love and gratitude,

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!

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Lovely, Kaleigh and me

 

We were celebrating Kaleigh and Lovely!

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

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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)

Family · healing-over-pain · Hope · Relationship

Joe is a Superstar!

Joe Kinan was the most severely injured of the crowd who were burned in the fire at “The Station” nightclub in West Warwick, RI, on Feb. 20, 2003.

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Joe Kinan

The fire killed 100 people and injured more than 200.

For the past 16 years, Joe has been on a rugged journey of recovery, having had 148 surgeries.

Joe not only had to fight his way back from injuries that should have killed him, but he also developed a paralyzing fear of fire.

“I try to look at it and face up to it but it’s tough,” he told PEOPLE magazine: “Even if it’s just a candle with a one-inch flame, it’s like the size of a tree to me.”

Before the fire, Joe worked as much as possible—two or three jobs at a time.

He was also an amateur bodybuilder, spending hours working out and loving the “mental clarity that it brought.”

When the fire started, he immediately tried to get himself and his friend out the door.

She did not survive.

“I kept thinking about my daughter. I didn’t want her to not have a dad.”

Joe’s fitness as a bodybuilder helped him survive the fire, but his deeper source of strength came from his mental fitness.

At the 2007 World Burn Congress in Vancouver, Canada, Joe met Carrie Pratt, a fellow burn survivor, and they became close friends.

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Joe & Carrie Kinan

Three years later, Joe and Carrie began dating and eventually married in 2017.

In recent years, Joe received a hand transplant.

After lengthy rehab, he can now use a chef’s knife again (getting back to his love of cooking) and make his own cup of coffee in the morning.

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Kinan’s & me

Last summer Joe had several rejection episodes that caused him to lose all his fingernails and develop neuropathy in his hand.

Joe has learned a lot about the process of healing on his journey to recovery.

“Something I keep saying to myself is ‘’You end up a patient—now you have to be patient.”

Joe has started a real estate company flipping houses and likes to stay as physically fit as possible.

One more thing.

Another miracle.

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A baby girl.

BS-Joe Kinan family

Who is almost 6!

dawn

(I acknowledge my debt to the “Phoenix Society’s World Burn Congress” in the writing of this blog)

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)

Family · healing-over-pain · Hope · Relationship

The Gift of Family

A 12-year-old middle school boy, Fernando Castro, was killed as a fire ripped through his family’s home.

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Nano

To everyone who knew him, he was affectionately known as “Nano.” 

 

The night of the fire, Nano and his young siblings – three-year-old half-sister Esmeralda (“Esme”) and five-year-old half-brother Luis (Junior)– were home with a babysitter and her boyfriend, when a fire sparked inside their home.

The children’s mother, Juana Vasquez, was away driving her daughter back to college after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The babysitter told the police that one of the children moved a ‘space heater’ into their bedroom.Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 2.27.02 PM.png

 

She thought that was how the fire started.

 The fast-moving flames engulfed everyone inside.

The thick, black smoke hindered the Firefighters, but they worked through it and found Nano’s body inside the burned-out home.

Esme and Junior survived but suffered critical injuries that left them both hospitalized, with Esme suffering from burns over 40 percent of her body, while Junior has burns on over 70 percent of his body.

They were burned so badly that they had to be placed in medically induced comas.

Doctors have told the family that each child would need more than 80 operations between now and the age of 18 to fully recover from their severe injuries. 

Nano’s mourning mother, Juana, remembered how he would always turn to give her a big “thumbs up” every morning before getting on the school bus.

She clings to this image of her boy who seems to be saying here, with his thumbs up, “I’m OK, Mom, everything’s OK.”

I remember meeting Esme and Junior along with their aunts, at the Phoenix World Burn Conference, who are taking care of them now.

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JR, Esme, aunts and me

Let me tell you what’s really amazing that has come out of this tragedy.

It is the power of love in a larger family.

These 2 aunts are bringing deep emotional and physical healing to their niece and nephew. (I remember the nights after Ryan died when I had my two sisters, Dianne and Darby, and my parents surrounding us with their love).

Now, I look at this photograph and see that the same thing has happened for this little family.

They are encircled by a love that will never let them go.

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There’s a message for all of us in this.

In an age where we are losing a sense of the ‘nuclear family,’ it’s sad, isn’t it, that it often takes a tragedy to shatter the walls we’ve put between us and open our eyes to the best gift God has given us.

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The Gift of Family.

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)

Friendship · healing-over-pain · Hope · Relationship

Undercover Agents of Love

You’re not going to believe what happened to me last week in California!

I was attending the Phoenix World Burn Conference for burn survivors.

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Steve Joyner

There were about 800 of us.   

I say ‘us’ because I’m a burn survivor too, along with my husband and son, Tyler, who was a baby when we had the car accident.

It was that car fire that changed our lives completely because we lost our 7-year-old son, Ryan, in the fire. 

About the conference…I had come here with an agenda.

Like sharing Ryan’s Burn Foundation with my  ‘burn-survivor Tribe.’

My peeps.

Let me tell you about something that happened every day of the conference and it was pretty scary.

You know the term ‘Open-mic,’ right? We could volunteer to stand-up in front of more than 300 people and tell our story.

 

It was raw.

The wounds became fresh again, but this time in a room without judgment.

Everybody was just Honest-to-God.

Our only currency was the truth… and trust.

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Junior, Esme and 2 aunts

I could tell you about Esme and Junior(90% burned) who lost their 12-year-old big brother in a house fire. 

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Sam “no-hands bandit”

Or, I could tell you about Sam, the “no-hands bandit,”  who was electrocuted by so much voltage that it fried both his hands off. 

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Joe, Carrie and I

I could tell you about Joe.

He was in the middle of a nightclub fire that killed his girlfriend and 99 other people who were just dancing to the music and the next thing they knew they were on fire. 

Wait!

You know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to introduce you to these heroes in my next few blogs. One-at-a-time.

You must meet these Undercover Agents of Love.

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me, Jason, Sam, Sarah and Billy(worm)

Come open-hearted and ready to trust.

I guess it always comes down to a matter of trust, doesn’t it?

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)