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Rick's Story

I am a burn survivor.


I come from a small, family farm near Cissna Park, Illinois. In addition to field corn and soybeans, we also raised and trained Appaloosa horses, frequently spending weekends trail riding and showing horses with family and friends. My spare time was working as a farm hand and employed as a mechanic at our local John Deere dealership.  Other than the horses, I enthusiastically spent my free time hunting, fishing, trapping, observing, exploring and thoroughly awed by nature.  The more time I spent in the great outdoors, the more I learned to comprehend, respect and love nature's delicate balance.  I was a naturalist long before being 'green' was cool!


Late on the night of May 14th, 1975 I was critically injured in a fiery automobile crash, clipping off a telephone pole, crushing a cement culvert, and totalling my car (as well as myself) in the process.  Among my numerous injuries were 42% total thickness burns (3rd & 4th degree) from the flames, scalding fluids and melting vinyl. I also severely injured my face, neck, ribs, left shoulder and lower legs.  A local farmer was quick to assist, summoning his teammates at the Cissna Park Fire and Rescue Squad.  They rapidly responded and transported me to the local trauma center in Urbana, Illinois.  However, the extent of my injuries required the specialized treatment of a burn unit, so I was flown by helicopter to Foster McGaw Hospital, Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.  There I received excellent care from the doctors and staff.  They professionally tolerated my displeasure with the pain of my injuries and frustration with my situation.  I spent the majority of the next 2 years in Loyola, the first 6 months in the Burn Unit.


My injuries were accompanied by constant, mercilessly incredible pain.  I endured a plethera of medical procedures including over 30 major surgeries (such as debriments, skin graftings, and multiple amputations), countless localized procedures, and complete physical and occupational rehabilitation.  At one time, all I could move was my jaw, neck, right elbow and three fingers.  The rest of my tendons and muscles had atrophied and locked up from lack of use.  Personally, I found the itching of the healing process more maddening than the pain.  Although I went through a phase of self-medicating and still live with daily pain, I have learned to contain it as tolerable (sans drugs).  Gradually I became aware of the ugly realization that my life had permanently, dramatically changed. Although blessed with significant social re-enforcement, and personally possessing a durable survival instinct, I faced many unexpected physical, social, financial, and professional challenges. 


Networking with other burn survivors I discovered mutual challenges.

  • Pain, grief, guilt, and post-traumatic stress are real.

  • You may gain a new, deeper appreciation of life.

  • Some will struggle to accept the 'new you', their reality being who you were or might have become.

  • True friends and family are adaptable, adjust well, and relationships grow deeper.  Treasure those who stay and grow with you!

  • Do not accept punishment or entrapment (self-imposed or by others) of your injuries/scars. 

  • Reject the weaponization or abuse (self-imposed or by others) of your trauma (i.e. through drama, financial, or psycho-social obsessions).

  • Strongly consider the need and/or advantages of retraining and/or furthering your education.

  • Rejoice in the 'new you'!!!

After struggling 20 years through numerous, unsuccessful career attempts, I finally acquiesced to further education, and graduated from Illinois State University in 1995. Today I am an IT professional in the insurance industry.

Although it took decades to retrofit into society, quitting was never really a viable option. For me, the ongoing adaptation requires a sense of humor and significantly different view of reality.  Therefore, I concur with the simple statement on my favorite T-shirt (author unknown):


"Scars are tattoos with much better stories."


Re-find and be true to yourself.

If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in the future.

If you are at peace, you are living in the present.

- Loa Tzu

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