Burn survivors return to thank UPMC staffers at annual event
Barbara Morgan was burned from the chest up when she tried unsuccessfully to rescue her son from a house fire four years ago.
Still bearing the scars of those wounds, she and about 75 other burn victims and their families returned to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, on Sunday to thank the staff who helped heal them and to inspire each other.
"I thank all the doctors and nurses for all the wonderful care they gave me," said Morgan, 69, of Amsterdam, Ohio. "Every year, they're amazed more and more how well I'm doing and my attitude. I've never been down."
This marked the 18th annual Burn Survivor Sunday at Mercy's Gertrude P. and Donald C.W. Birmingham Trauma and Burn Center.
Dr. Jenny Ziembicki, burn center director, said burns are about the most severe of injuries. They can require 20 to 30 skin grafts. The daily changing of the dressings requires an hour of painful treatment. Aside from the physical injury, she said, many burn victims suffer from post-traumatic stress.
Nevertheless, Ziembicki said, "Most of them realize it changes them in a better way. They become more accepting of others, more compassionate."
Morgan recalls stumbling out of the bedroom door while she was trying to rescue her son, a paraplegic. Her partner, Ed Raffle, carried her to the entrance of the house before he, too, passed out, and a passer-by saved them.
She spent 100 days in the burn unit and still bears facial scars, the remnants of third-degree burns. Half of her left arm was amputated, and she can barely twitch two fingers on her right hand.
Now she wants everyone to know that burn victims can survive physically and mentally.
"Your life isn't over," she said.
Dakota Heckathorne, 12, of Polk in Venango County was a toddler when he knocked over a cup of piping hot coffee. He suffered third-degree burns on his neck and chest.
Those scars are faintly visible today, but they stand out in the eyes of other children.
"The kids know," said his mother, Michelle Heckathorne, 43. "Seventh-graders are nasty little creatures."
Charlie Bracken, 13, of Ford City was just 4 years old when he poured gasoline from a milk jug on a trash fire. The gas exploded, and his father carried the boy, his face whitened, across the driveway.
"We didn't even recognize him," recalls his grandmother, Susan Porter, 55, of Ford City.
His mother, Laurie Bracken, 29, of Ford City has mixed feelings about going to the reunion.
"To me, it's bad memories. That was my baby," she said. "It's good for him to see other people the same thing happened to, and they're still going on."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.