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Former pro golfer, burn patient makes return visit to Vanderbilt

Oct. 25, 2012, 9:58 AM

Former professional golfer Cathy Gerring was treated at Vanderbilt after being badly burned at the Sara Lee Classic 20 years ago. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Former pro golfer Cathy Gerring returned to Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently for the first time since she was hospitalized here after being badly burned in a golf tournament more than 20 years ago.

Gerring, who suffered her injuries from a fire that started in a hospitality tent at the LPGA’s Sara Lee Classic in Old Hickory, Tenn., in 1992, spent more than three weeks recovering at Vanderbilt.

“I got burned 20 years ago and if I told you the ironies and the things I have been through since then, and where I’ve been, it would blow your mind that I am right back here where it started for me,” she said. “Because this is where I left a piece of me. I never knew that I needed to come back until I got here.”

“My message is that emotional pain is the hardest to get past,” Gerring said. “And Vanderbilt has everything here to help people get past that. You just want the insanity to stop and Vanderbilt stopped the insanity.”

Gerring was standing by the buffet table in the tent when a catering employee started to refuel a burner he thought had gone out but was actually still lit. The employee jerked the refueling can away, dousing Gerring with fuel. She caught fire and was engulfed from the waist up.

She also returned to the site of the tournament during her visit to Nashville, reliving her painful memories of the accident. Gerring said she remembers the accident, and being taken by LifeFlight to Vanderbilt for her burn injuries, like it was yesterday.

“You don’t choose when you get hurt. As a golfer you fear your back going out or your neck. I never thought my career would end by being burned,” she said.

“Even though I thought that I was meant to be a golfer, and tried to change people through my golf, that obviously was not my avenue. I strongly believe that it would be selfish of me to take what I learned and not share it with others. I would love to be able to help others understand through a burn patient’s eyes.”

From Vanderbilt she was off to North Carolina’s Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, where she played her only post-burn U.S. Open.

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