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.

Ryan
Ryan

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

burn survivor:dog

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. 

fireman facing fire

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.

brantson

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.

hot water burns

 

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.

BS-Aaron 2

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.

BS-Aaron 1
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

My Race continues…

At 16-years-old, I had hiked out to a very remote beach on Vancouver Island with six of my friends including my brother.

campfire

We got very drunk.

I decided to stay awake and drink the leftovers by the beach fire until I fell into an alcohol-fueled sleep.

I woke to searing pain down my left arm.

I felt my face, which was smooth as plastic, and my eyelids were burned shut. Somehow I’d rolled into the fire and woke up with 14% full-thickness burns mainly to my face and along my left arm.

I tried to make enough noise to wake the others, but I think I was the only one who could hear me.

I couldn’t see anything with my eyelids burned shut.

I finally pried my left eyelid open a fraction with both hands. Now I knew the general direction of the other guys.

fire

My brother Rob heard my crying and climbed out of his tent.

When he saw me–my blackened face and the extensive body damage caused by the fire–he lost it.

Two friends stayed with me, while the two guys ran 4 miles for help.

Several hours after my accident a small helicopter arrived!

The flight team strapped me onto a stretcher that was attached to the bottom of the small helicopter that buzzed me back to Bamfield Hospital. 

I had lost the use of my right eye and I needed a new nose, and God knows what else. I had endless variations of donor sites.

It was amazing how much skin you go through!

I was discharged from the burn unit after 115 days and nights.

Joe-Schuckel-2Slowly but surely I got stronger, but I had a long way to go.

I went under for many more surgeries (14+) over the next three years.

I wore a plastic mask for quite some time. I got my new nose, and I got titanium implants for a prosthetic eye and ear and wore “pressure garments” for years. 

While going through the endless surgeries I started running to get stronger.

I ran the Times Colonist 10k against my doctor’s advice with 6000 other folks.BS-Joe Schuckel1

I was hooked! A marathon came next. 

Currently, I have run 15 marathons.

I married my girlfriend Jane, and we have a six-acre farm in scenic Cobble Hill, BC. with horses that Jane manages, plus chickens and pigs.

Our “Bed and Breakfast” Hillcrest Farm is busy in the summer and we both love to welcome guests to these wonderful surroundings.

 And as a professional chef, I currently work full time as a cook in Victoria at a Complex Care facility.

My race continues to include mountain biking, marathons and connection with the burn community to offer support when needed.

BS-Joe Schuckel 3
Hillcrest Farm Bed & Breakfast

 

That’s my story of a happy boy and a strong man.

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.

bs-marius 1
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.

bs-marius 6

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)

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”).

ff family 2132c9fbcc0dc87f352ea839f62e3caa

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.

ryan shines mosaic
“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.

LRG_DSC00615
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 · Friendship · Hope · Relationship

Kaleigh: opening like a rose

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

death rose sammie-vasquez-490032-unsplash.jpg

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.

cc-brodykaleigh.jpg
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.

Group Montg.
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)

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.

Bs-Joe(pre)
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.

BS-Joe:carrie
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.

BS-Joe
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.

BS-Joe Kinan:baby

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)