Encouragement · Hope

from Re-learning to Walk to “Dancing with the Stars”

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.

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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.”undefined

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. undefined

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.”

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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.

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You can help burn survivors, too. Ask me how!

dawn

To support us, please visit us at www.ryanshines.com or follow us on FB and IG @ryanshinesburnfoundation)

Encouragement · healing-over-pain · Hope

“All we could see were his eyes”

It started out as the perfect summer trip.

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Derek and Amanda

High-altitude training camp including hiking, running, cycling, and fishing in mountainous Mammoth California!

Derek, his girlfriend Amanda Post, high school friends Natalie Nield and Drew Delis, and athletic trainer John Adams made the trip and were returning home in an SUV when the accident occurred.

The driver drifted out of his lane and onto the shoulder, causing the SUV to flip, roll, and skid to a stop on its side, in the path of oncoming traffic.

Another van also heading to Mammoth athletic camp, carrying 12 cross-country runners and a coach, crashed into the SUV.  Then, a sedan slammed into the pileup.

The SUV burst into flames.

In all, 15 people were injured and four were killed (his girlfriend and his best friends).

Derek said that he can only remember fragments of the scene, but he does remember telling someone: “Please, please call my dad and tell him we had an accident.’’

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Doctors at Grossman burn center said his case is one of the worst they’d ever seen, and estimated his chances of survival at less than 1%.

The burns penetrated his muscles, kidneys, liver and lungs – all were on the verge of shutting down.

Derek’s life for the next eleven months was an unthinkable nightmare. The kind that breaks peoples’ hearts.

The 19-year-old high school student had burns to over 85% of his body.

When his father saw him in the hospital, he said, “All we could see were his eyes and one toe.’ He told his sons’ doctors: “Just get him to where he’s awake. And I know he’ll take care of the rest.”

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After more than a year in the hospital and 42 surgeries later, he was able to come home.

He had beaten the odds. His strength and will to live far exceeded the doctor’s expectations.

His father says, “Derek has proven every time that he was stronger than his fear, that each step was another forward step in a positive direction.”

Derek’s survival story is inspiring, but even more than inspiring is his determination to continue living his life the way he always lived it, uninhibited by his annoying scars.

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“I know that logically I shouldn’t be here and I shouldn’t be here,” the 20-year-old Encinitas resident said.

“And it’s kind of hard for me to come to grips with that, but I just have to be thankful every day.”

When I heard about Derek I was hit by a wave of sadness.

Then, I thought about my family. We are so blessed, and gratitude began to fill my heart.

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Derek today

I found myself wondering how I could turn my feelings into action.

I’ve decided to give a financial gift to honor Derek and to help children like him recover.

What can you do?

If you need any suggestions on how to help, contact us at www.ryanshines.com.

dawn

(Thanx to Burn Survivor Resource Community for information).

Family · healing-over-pain · Hope

We are all together

(This is the speech I’m giving tonight at our first annual Gala. It’s the next best thing to being there.)

It’s best to begin with the children–our burn survivors. I hope you have had some time to see and engage our burn children.

They are our galaxy of bright stars.

Have you heard their stories? Many of our burn-kids had never told their story before, to anyone. Some of the stories seemed impossible to be built into words. But we knew the words were there and by listening attentively in a safe harbor of non-judgmental love, the stories began to surface at an event that we call “Catching Courage.”

Their courage was tangible though it’s hard to speak when your spirit has been broken.  statue grieving parents

Our family has a story and it was very hard to tell even to ourselves at home. 

Here’s our story.

It was a typical family Sat. afternoon going from a swimming meet to a soccer match.

We were on the expressway when our tire detreaded and the car started flipping 3/4 times.

There were 4 of us in the car–Ryan (7), Tyler (2), Ron and me.

The car burst into flames. Ryan and I caught fire first. And then it spread thru the car.

We were all burning. Ron was able to reach Tyler and pull him out of the fire. But Ryan was stuck in his seat belt and there was no way to pull him free before the fire took him.

Ron, Tyler and I were flown 600 miles away and a quarter of our bodies were burned.

Even though we know we’ll never get over this, we’re still here and our family is getting stronger at the broken places.

15 years after Ryan died, we saw it was the right time to build our foundation–Ryan Shines–in honor of our son.

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Ryan

One purpose of our foundation is to ensure that no burn child is left behind.

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We have created a safe place where burn survivors can heal.

It’s a place where we don’t run ahead of them demanding they keep up with us.

 

We communicate face to face on the same level.

And when we hear them begin to talk about their day from hell, when the world reversed its rotation, we are there with them. 

And not only us, but the firefighters were in the center of everything.

There are few men and women who wake up every morning to an unscripted day; a day that could be their last.

 

Firefighters are born, they’re not made. Their kind of courage and two scoops of craziness is deep in their DNA.

They run toward death while everyone else runs away. They have the gift of not thinking about themselves first.

Compassion is at the heart of their work. 

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And compassion is at the heart of our work with them. When I first opened my eyes to it, I had no idea that Alabama is 2nd in the nation in suicide over work-related death.

You understand I’m talking about our firefighters.

It breaks my heart.

So many mothers losing their sons and daughters fighting every day like our family did to make sense of it. But, you know, it doesn’t make sense. 

Now. Imagine these 2 groups–our pediatric burn children and firefighters–spending a weekend or week together. Without saying a word, they recognize that they are standing on common ground. It creates a whole ‘new normal’ for them.

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The bond that began the day of the fire, continues even thru tonite.

It happens at all of our Catching Courage events.

And the bond between them is indestructible. 

One thing I’ve learned over these years is that when something awful happens,

“Why?” is almost always the wrong question.

When the roof caves in or a trap door springs, the only question worth asking is “Where do we go from here?”

And however we may answer that question, part of the answer will always be “together.”

Group Montg.

dawn

 

 

Encouragement · Faith · Hope

Aaron: less than 10% chance of Survival

Aaron’s life was 24 days old, when his biological father submerged him in scalding water, burning over 45% of his small body.

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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.

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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.

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Aaron today

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.

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

Marius: the courage to survive!

Marius is from Romania, and at the young age of eight, he experienced a horrific accident.

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Marius, age 7

He was sound asleep one minute, and suddenly awoke to a fire in his bedroom, and throughout the whole house.

He was blinded by flames and thick smoke.

He survived because he was able to crawl through the house and into the front yard away from the flames.

bs-marius 4His parents, however, were not as lucky and did not survive.

Marius sustained 3rd and 4th degree burns over 75 percent of his body; he lost his nose, he lost his fingers, and he lost his family.

He was treated in Romania and placed in an orphanage while he recovered.

He had two surviving siblings who were away at the time, but neither was able to care for Marius.

bs-marius 3While recovering in the orphanage Marius met two student nurses from the United States, these women feel in love with his infectious personality, and his courage to survive.

They decided to do something more for him and coordinated his transfer to Shriner’s Hospital in Los Angeles, California. 

Since coming to the United States Marius has undergone many operations: eye reconstruction, six toe-to-finger transfers, nose reconstruction and skin grafting of the mouth.bs-marius 5

But his healing in the United States has included more than his physical recovery.

Marius was adopted by the loving family of one of the American nurses that helped him in Romania.BS marius2

Now a thriving teenager, Marius is settled into his new life and new family.

He is an excellent student, plays on the football team and is looking forward to getting his driver’s permit.

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Marius is living proof of the perseverance of the human spirit.

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 · healing-over-pain · Hope · wounded healer

Every ending is a new beginning

( First, I’ve gotta tell you that I’m finding so much joy in my Journey with you).

2020

However we have failed ourselves and those we care about; wherever our fears have knocked us to our knees; whatever searing loss has tempted us to give up on our dreams, our story doesn’t end there! 

It’s time to leave 2019 and move into the New Year.

It’s time to leave what’s past and embrace what’s possible.open door

Every ending brings a new beginning. 

As we are making our way into our new beginning, we are constructing a world where people make room for each other, provide for each other, and take care of each other.

A world where people refuse to judge a child by her scars.

This is our 20/20 vision at Ryan Shines, even if that’s not the world we live in.

We live in a world where terrible things happen, and not just to other people.

We have had our share of tragic accidents, and dreaded diagnoses.

The question is: “how will we respond when these things happen to us?”

By facing what’s terrible in our lives and our world, we create the possibility that something beautiful will emerge in its wake.

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Catching Courage Keys Edition

What’s terrible doesn’t have the final word.

As long as we are alive, something always happens next. And if we work for it, ‘the something that happens next’ can be beautiful.

Why don’t you join us?

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It’s never too late to embrace our Vision.

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 · 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