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

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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.

cody

“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
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

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Adventure with Engagement AWE · Family travel · Hope · Motherhood

A wonderful gift waiting for us in China!

Molly could be weighed against feathers.

She is so little for all the machines surrounding in the burn hospital, giving and taking.

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Shanghai General Hospital , China

She had suffered through God knows how many surgeries, not to mention the endless skin-graphs.

Did I tell you we met her in China at the burn hospital in Bejing?

So many children, so little time!

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Molly

You know the feeling of wanting to take them home with us in.

We brought a big white stuffed dog for Molly.

 

When our Tyler bent down eye-to-eye with Molly he gave her his high-beam smile (a wonderful gift in itself); then, he took the big dog out of it’s red package and handed it to her.

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Tyler

We were all happy-surprised when she reached out on her own to take it from Tyler.

She turned to her mother and hugged her with her dog between them.

Every door in my heart blew open.

I was full of love for Molly, but I had some questions. 

When she leaves here will she be stroller’d out into the great outdoors?

As she grows, will she pedal down neighborhood streets on her two-wheeler? 

Will the other children accept her?

Will she swing around the pole of parking meters?

When she sleeps will she reach out for stars?

I look at her mother and remembered every emotion rocking her heart.

All I want to do is to sweep Molly up and rock her for a solid month-and-a-half.

dawn

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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

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

“All I wanted was to get my life together.”

Preston is the burn-survivor whose vulnerability is from head-to-toe.

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He could have cried easily but he kept it together.
 
“The best thing that happened to me because of my burns was, ‘I NEVER GAVE UP!'” 
bs-Preston
 
“I DO feel like a hero because I want to inspire other kids who are burned like me and give them hope.
I want to show them that their scars don’t have to stop them from doing anything.
I want to let every burn-survivor know that they don’t have to worry about their burns, but that they can feel normal like I do. 
That’s how I want to help everybody who is like me!”
I can’t imagine feeling like a hero at 15-years-old like Preston. 

Preston heroes a little bit every day.
It’s not a one-time thing.

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dawn
#catchingcourage #ryanshines

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Faith · healing-over-pain · Hope · Relationship

“All I did was pray in the ambulance.”

I’m going to tell you a story, but the star of our story is way bigger than a simple story.

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Jadah at Camp Conquest ’18

She’s a capital “S” Story!

Jadah is the girl, and she is God’s ‘S’tory!

The secret word here is one of the best words ever:  MIRACLE!

Jadah was burned over much of her body.

She and her cousins woke up early and went out back to re-light the bonfire of the night before.

One of her cousins opened a can of gas to help the fire along.

Suddenly, the fire backed-up into the can, he dropped it and it exploded on Jadah!

She ran into the house on fire and somebody called 911.

The hospital was 45 miles away, and it took that long for the ambulance to arrive.

Jadah sat her burning body down in a chair to wait.

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Jadah & Cpt. Cheeney Catching Courage ’18

There was so much pain she began to think she wouldn’t make it.

“All I did was to pray in the ambulance,” she told me.

Jadah said, ”It was so rough fighting in the hospital.

All the medicine they shot in me made me feel really weird and not myself.

I remember the pain.

Nothing could reach it.

It was all over me, and it was so horrible and so hard!

But it also really made me fight.

And even while I was fighting I realized God was busy working on me, too, inside and out!”

CC Jadah fish

Spoiler alert! Here comes the MIRACLE!

“I was miracle-healed!” (I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!)

She began to cry and said it again: “I was miracle-healed. God took most of my scars away!

God was giving me a second chance.”

Finally, she said, “I want to thank the firefighters, the paramedics, and the police officers.

They are all heroes!

My dad is a firefighter, and I know it hurt him almost as much as me!”

There was so much Courage sitting across from me.

Jadah dolphin
Jadah’s new friend  Catching Courage ’18

But more than anything, her deep gratitude.

dawn

#catchingcourage #ryanshines

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Encouragement · Family · Hope · wounded healer

Seen through her baby’s eyes

I’m Dawn.

The mother in this story is me. Our little family was boxed-in by a fire in our car.

We skidded across the access road off the Interstate and rolled the car three times.

Three of us survived. My seven-year-old son, Ryan, was burned alive, to death.

I realized last night that I haven’t told you very much about our baby boy, Tyler, who was freed from the flames along with Ron, and me. (We three were burned over 25% of our bodies).

This was–no-contest–the worst experience of my life.

Everything in me died on a slab that day, but my breathing wouldn’t quit.

I only wanted one thing . . . to be with my Ry-Ry immediately.

About Tyler.

My 2-year-old gave me the best Gifts of my life. (He’s a sophomore at Auburn now).

He gave his gift every morning of every month of every year after “the accident.”

 

He saw me beyond his own pain. He saw beneath my scars.

He saw the heart of a mother who didn’t deserve to be called “mother” anymore.

For him, nothing had changed.

We were still Team Tyler!

And every morning he pushed my bedroom door open, he saw the one thing he needed most. Mommy-Me! I was all he needed.

I was haunted by my consummate failure at the ‘’scene,’’ Tyler wasn’t.

I was more than my scars.

That’s what he taught me again and again, and he hardly knew how to talk.

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Forget words he knew me ‘by heart.’

I was all-mother, not his ‘scarred’ mother.

I was the mother who knew just what he needed, and when.

He showed me I still had the Goods.

He never once bailed on me while I was bailing on myself every day.

How can a 2-year-old do that?

I think about the ”Little Prince” and what he said, “

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.

What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Tyler saw me rightly and I grew into his vision of me.

He took me every day by the hand into the kitchen for breakfast.

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Tyler

He led me to the window to show me, in a loving way, that Life goes on.

It didn’t matter to him if I was ready to see it or not. God only knows how saw my strength. God only knows how he knew me.

Tyler will always be God’s best Gift to me!

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me and tyler

dawn

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Encouragement · Hope · Relationship

New Kids in Town

There’s a new breed of “hero” in the country.

I’m pretty sure you’ve seen a few but you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Wait.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

First, I want to talk about the heroes that have flown in and out of your life.USA womens soccer 2019

Think back to Superman, or George Lucas, astronauts or police officers?

How ’bout our World Champion USA soccer team?   

So who and what is this new breed of heroes I’m talking about?

These heroes are “Pediatric Burn Survivors”!

They survived the fire that was consuming them and they are surviving the emotional handicap of growing up scared.  

But how are these ‘child burn survivors’ heroes?

For one thing,  most face multiple surgeries, over multiple years since every growth spurt requires “skin-release’ surgery so they can keep growing. 

Next, they take their scars to school with them and are then ridiculed.

Many are bullied or laughed at.

One child I know was tagged with  a new name–“Freddy Kruger.”

I want you to take that in and feel the shame that lingers. (And we thought the sky was falling when we had a ‘zit’ on our forehead.) 

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Catching Courage ’19 Pediatric Burn Survivors

These young burn survivors are heroes because daily they walk into school never knowing who would hurt them with words or everything going on behind their back.

Think about the everyday insecurities of ‘growing up’, especially in puberty.

Then, on top of their fears, add physical deformities.

Be mindful that most of their peers will never understand. Not even me–an adult burn survivor–even I don’t understand.

It’s all so unfair.

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CC ’19-Brody and Kaleigh
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CC ’19–Alex
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CC ’19–Lovely
Brantson
CC ’19–Future Firefighter Brantson

These kids are the new breed of “heroes.”

dawn

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Encouragement · Hope · Relationship

Who rescues the rescuers?

How does Ryan Shines help support our Firefighters?

We’re building a community at Ryan Shines that recognizes that Firefighters are stronger when they face their daily internal reality together and head-on.

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We want this community of trust to be available to every Career&Volunteer&Retired Firefighter in America.

We want to show them that Firefighters don’t ever have to live or die alone.

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So we will join their band of brothers and sisters from across the state to form a support network for the mental and physical health of their fellow Firefighters by providing trained assistance through a  “Firefighter Peer Support” Team.

Let me tell you the story about a Fire Chief in Alabama. His name is Mark Sealy and he oversees 24 fire stations in Mobile.

mark sealy

His best friend, a fellow Firefighter, suffered and died from PTSD.

All he knew was to self-medicate.

That’s the day when the Chief really ‘got it.’

His friend had survived every emergency that Firefighters face but his ‘internal Civil War’ took him out.

So, Mark not only knows everything first hand about firefighting but he has also been at the center of personal tragedy himself.

And he’s so open and eager that our common dream of ‘Peer Support’ take root and grow.

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In other words,  we ‘drank the kool-aid.’

I wish I could clone him and send him to every fire station in the country.

This is what we are developing in our own circle of influence.

We have created our first of many statewide Support Teams called “Alabama Firefighter Peer Support” at Ryan Shines.

Now, I am not fluent in ‘Firefighter,’ but I do understand personal trauma and the aftermath (PTSD), and the importance of finding friends you can trust.

You’ll find men and women with whom you can speak in a kind of  ‘shorthand’ because they intimately know the words and the feelings that have been burned into their brain since their first fire. 

Ryan
Ryan

Every day I wish Ryan was here. But when I look at all we’re doing together, he is no less than the engine driving us, and his is the Shining that lights our way.

 

dawn

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