By L.A. Shively (Fort Sam Houston)September 4, 2009
Twenty-seven Soldiers, Sailors and Marines undergoing treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center joined 850 survivors at the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors' 21st Annual World Burn Congress Aug. 27-29 in New York City to share experiences and practical advice about the road to recovery.
Survivors participated in a wide range of workshops - from tips on using cosmetics to improve one's appearance, to helping a child with self-esteem after a burn injury. A panel discussion centered on utilizing media to spread fire prevention messages.
Firefighters and current and former military personnel spoke about the impact of their injuries in the line of duty on Family and career.
Other speakers included CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who recovered from injuries sustained while on assignment in Baghdad, and J.R. Martinez, an actor on the long-running ABC soap opera "All My Children" and an Iraq War veteran.
"A lot of the information was very good," said Navy Machinist's Mate 1st Class Robert Bruce, currently being treated at BAMC for burns sustained three years ago on board the USS Frank Cable as a result of a steam leak in the engineering spaces where he worked.
Bruce explained that the military is very good at helping burn patients cope and look toward the future after injury. Part of his rehabilitation was getting to know other patients who were ahead of him in the healing process and who gave him hope.
"It was easier for me to see there was something to achieve because you had the future right in front of you."
Bruce said other burn patients at BAMC are his support group and are a very important part of his ongoing recovery process, something most civilian patients don't have.
"That support can't come from just anybody; it has to come from somebody who is burned. It's hard to get over (being injured). You have a lot of obstacles, a lot of emotions - anger, frustration, fury.
In the military we're fortunate to have that ability to talk to people who have been through what we've been through and can give us some insight."
Bruce said his biggest take away from the congress was the number of survivors he encountered. "It was eye-opening to see that many people. It helps you know you're not really alone."
"The conference was a powerful experience, especially to see hundreds of burn survivors supporting each other," said Pam Voltin, whose husband, Marine Capt. Ryan Voltin, was injured when his helicopter was shot down.
She said she benefitted from a specific session geared toward caregivers that provided tools she could use to support herself while she cared for her husband.
"Take time for yourself, it's so easy to focus outwardly and forget about yourself," she said noting that caregivers often suffer from "compassion fatigue."
Voltin also said that seeing the military survivors who suffered horrific burns in the defense of our country was very meaningful.
"These are the guys that put their lives on the line for our freedom," she said.
"Service members are willing to pay that price for our country and this life is hard, there are many challenges. If my husband and I didn't have a strong relationship and good communications it would not be possible."
Janice Rozenowski said a special connection developed between the service people and the firefighters during the conference.
"They connected," she said.