Health

Eastern Iowa burn survivors: 'Biggest injuries ... are on the inside'

Support shared during Iowa City gathering

Thomas Mochal (from left), 8, of Waterloo, Dennis Forbes of Lone Tree and Bev Gartner of Iowa City, all three burn survivors, work on a “people scavenger hunt” activity Saturday during the Burn Survivors Together event at the Iowa City Moose Family Center in Iowa City. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Thomas Mochal (from left), 8, of Waterloo, Dennis Forbes of Lone Tree and Bev Gartner of Iowa City, all three burn survivors, work on a “people scavenger hunt” activity Saturday during the Burn Survivors Together event at the Iowa City Moose Family Center in Iowa City. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A rare gathering Saturday brought together people whose lives have been altered because of burn injuries.

The St. Florian Fire and Burn Foundation and the University of Iowa Burn Treatment Center teamed up for the event: Burn Survivors Together.

“It’s nice because it brings people together from all the different phases of a burn injury. You’ve got nurses, doctors, firefighters and survivors,” St. Florian board member Ryan Rezin said of the event at the Iowa City Moose Lounge. “It’s good for the firefighters because it reinforces what they do. They save kids all the time, but they don’t really get to see how they are doing in life. On the same token, burn survivors — some of them were saved by firefighters, and never really get a chance to thank them or see them again. For me, this is about a lot of different perceptive coming together.”

Survivors and their families got to know each other through icebreakers such as a rock-paper-scissors competition and a scavenger hunt for people. Members of the Iowa City Fire Department met with the participants and gave firetruck tours.

More than 10 years ago, Rezin, 30, suffered third-degree burns to most of his body. His left hand was amputated. Since then, he dedicates much of his free time to assist other burn survivors in healing physically, mentally and emotionally. He has worked at the University of Iowa Burn Treatment Center and is a counselor at the Miracle Burn Camp. Rezin also is a board member of the foundation named for the patron saint of firefighters,

“We are just trying to get people together who are going through circumstances nobody else can really feel or describe, and give guidance on,” he said.

St. Florian Fire and Burn Foundations is a non-profit organization with a mission of reducing burn injuries and mortality through education and research. It also strives to assist and support burn survivors and their families in maintaining a high quality of life.

Families shared stories Saturday of coping with severe burns.

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Amanda Mochal of Waterloo came home from work one day to find her 15-month-old son Thomas with no skin on his feet. The injury was a result of serious burns in a horrendous act for which a man was sentenced to prison. Thomas, now 8, traveled two hours with his mother, brothers and grandmother to the event.

“Thomas was too young to know what happened, thankfully, to why his feet look different. And they will forever look different,” Amanda said. “My hope being around other children and adults that have been burned, that he will realize it is OK. He’s not different. There are tons of people out there that are burn survivors as well. We have met the most incredible people here. We turned a negative into a positive.”

Thomas was second in the scavenger hunt. But what he really loves, he said, is canoeing and making s’mores.

“At first, it was a hush-hush thing, because I couldn’t talk about it without crying,” Amanda said. “So it wasn’t until I started going to things like these and talking to other families, I found out it is OK. ... We are moving on.”

St. Florian programs include Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery, Family Burn Camp, Miracle Burn Camp for children and Young Adult Burn Survivors. St. Florian and the UI Burn Treatment Center also hold Burn Survivors Together events in Bettendorf, West Des Moines and Sioux City.

“Burns are different than everything else, because you wear them on your sleeve sometimes, like on your face,” Rezin said. “If somebody broke every bone in their body they would heal, and nobody would ever know, but even just a 2 percent burn on your face — it gets disfigured. There is a lot of stigmatism about burn injuries, so it is definitely hard. It is one of those harder injuries to overcome.”

Research at the University of Adelaide in Australia found that children who have been hospitalized for a burn experience higher-than-usual rates of depression and suicidal thoughts.

“The biggest injuries you don’t see are the ones on the inside,” Rezin said. “Some people wear masks on their face and go out in the middle of the night to get groceries. This is just a chance for people to relax and be themselves.”

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