May 23, 2003

VUMC Burn Unit hosts Survivors Reunion

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Lloyd Blackwell’s life turned upside down on April 25, 2001, when the gas can he was filling at a service station exploded, burning through the flesh over half of his body. He spent the next two and a half months in and out of Vanderbilt’s Burn Center and Nashville Rehabilitation Hospital. The fire not only burned his body, at times it seemed to have exhausted the will to carry on.

On Saturday, Blackwell will speak to a gathering of people who have shared similar experiences at the first annual Burn Survivors Reunion, designed to be as therapeutic to the former patients as well as burn unit staff.

The event starts with registration at 10 a.m. at the University Club. The Center’s co-medical directors, Dr. Ron Barton, assistant professor of Surgery in Plastic Surgery, and Dr. Jeff Guy, assistant professor of Surgery in Trauma, will speak, followed by lunch and then Blackwell’s presentation. Afterward, the attendees will divide into small groups to discuss their experiences, their obstacles and accomplishments since their accidents.

Burn patients are unique in that they often wear their injuries for a lifetime in the form of physical and emotional scars. Blackwell remembers the struggle, and he plans to tell the crowd, “there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is life after a burn. It may be different, but there is life.”

Dan Ramage, the burn unit’s social worker, says “we want to be supportive to patients throughout their recovery.”

He leads a monthly burn survivor support group, a program he thinks the reunion will bolster. “We hope to do this yearly as a way of celebrating these patients’ successes. And, more generally, the reunion is part of our effort to create an on-going experience of community for burn survivors and their family members.”

The day will also benefit nurses, physicians and other staff who care for these medically challenging patients.

“Staff are drawn to working in the Burn Center because it’s one of the few places in the hospital where they can treat patients throughout the healing process,” says Burn Center manager Michelle Terrell, R.N. “This first annual reunion will serve as a valuable tool for caregivers, demonstrating that their hard work has long lasting and continuous outcomes for these patients.”

For more information, call the Burn Center at 322-4590 or Ramage at 936-0392.