Burn Survivor Stories
Don Adamson’s 40-year career in the aircraft industry taught him to be cautious about workplace safety, especially with fire. However, nothing could’ve prepared him for his burn injury. Heading home one night in 2005 after a meeting, Don’s car stalled. As he tried to start it up again the gas tank exploded and propelled the vehicle 20 feet forward, causing him to be trapped in the fire for about fifteen minutes. Don doesn’t remember anything after that.
After firefighters arrived and extinguished the fire, Don was sent to the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Centre at the Foothills Hospital for immediate medical attention. Don was placed in an induced coma for over three weeks to save his life. He also went through three months of skin grafts and physiotherapy while he was in the hospital. Even after he was released, Don’s physical recovery continued for 18 more months, including 14 more operations plus physical and occupational therapy.
Don didn’t want his burn injury to control his life and returned to work after his recovery. Reflecting on how his burn injuries changed his life, Don has reconsidered what his priorities are. It was through this recovery process that Don decided to help other burn survivors. In 2007, Don was part of the creation of the Canadian Burn Survivors steering committee, whose goal was to create a national group for burn survivors that was viable and lasting. The meeting let to the formation of the Canadian Burn Survivors Community.
I am writing in support and gratefulness for all that the Calgary Firefighter Burn Treatment Society and the burn unit at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary has done for me, my family, and other burn survivors.
I am an Interprovincial Journeyman Powerline Technician. My job and priority was to build, maintain and keep the lights on in the Columbia Valley, British Columbia. In September 2008, a day seemingly like any other, I went to work. The difference was this day a series of errors were made that led to me being electrocuted with 14,400 volts, at a magnitude of 5 amps. If you know a little about electricity .5 of an amp can kill you. My body took 10x this amount and with insurmountable odds against me I survived.
I spent the next 9 weeks in the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Centre with many complications and a total of 10 surgeries. My hands were by far my worst injury and the future of both hands was not foreseeable. Fortunately I had the best surgeon around, Dr. Nickerson. He never gave up on me or my hands and tried everything in his power to save them. He was very successful in preserving the function and appearance of my right hand. It suffered severe nerve damage and full thickness burns limiting what could be done. After numerous surgeries, my left hand and wrist were too damaged to save and I was faced with the decision to amputate. That is a day that I will never forget. How does anybody ever feel comfortable to give the okay to amputate a piece of your body that you were born with? At this time I was very happy to have survived this tragic accident, but now I was faced with how I was to move forward with my severe disability. I began to slip into depression and couldn’t figure out what would be my new purpose in life. Everything I knew had changed forever.
This was when the Calgary Burn Survivors group became a staple in my recovery. I started attending meetings and was able to meet many burn survivors just like me, sharing stories and struggles. I was given the opportunity from the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society to attend a World Burn Survivors Congress seminar in New York City. This is when I really started to accept my disability and was able to be “me” again. I met burn survivors from all over North America that suffered many different burn injuries and realised there was hope for me.
I had a huge support system behind me through my recovery. My wife and children got me through every struggle I was faced with. My children especially were always pushing me to get back into sports, especially hockey. So I did just that, and strapped the gear back on in October 2011 and started to re-learn the game I loved. With my successful progress training, I was given the opportunity to try out for the Canadian National Amputee Hockey team in January 2012. After a series of camps, I had made the 2012 Canadian National team and was going to Finland to play in the ISIHF World Championship for the teams 6th consecutive gold medal. It was a lifelong dream came true for me to represent Canada, and obviously wear a Team Canada jersey. We ended up going undefeated in the tournament and won the teams 6th consecutive gold medal.
The opportunity to be a part of such an incredible moment helped me regain my confidence. I wanted to start communicating the importance of safety and believing in one’s self. To realize this goal, I started a motivational safety speaking business (Limitless Communications) to share my story, the importance of safety, and what can be achieved if you believe in yourself.
I owe a large part of my success to the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society, Dr. Nickerson, Calgary Foothills Hospital Staff (Burn Nurses, Physiotherapists, and Occupational Therapists) and most importantly my family. Looking back on my accident it has made me a better person and I wouldn’t change a thing!
My accident happened in January 2011. My husband and I were on a highway far from Calgary, heading to Saskatoon from our home in Creighton, SK. It was a trip we had made hundreds of times before, my family often joked that my husband could have done the drive with his eyes closed, he had done it so often. It was a cold January day, and although it wasn’t actually snowing when we left, there was snow on the road, so it made visibility on the highway bad when we were meeting vehicles. We hadn’t gotten very far and we came up behind a semi truck. My husband was a truck driver, and his thought was to get that truck behind us. So, like he had done many times before, he pulled out to pass. But this time there was another car coming in the other lane. We hit head on. I was the only survivor of the crash, and I was burned when our truck started on fire.
My survival started when 3 men who stopped to help pulled me out of the vehicle. They broke the side window with a shovel and pulled me out of the truck. They were later recognized with medals of bravery for risking their lives to save mine. I am forever grateful, and am alive today to tell my story, because of their bravery. 2 women who had stopped as well also helped me at the accident site. They loaded me in their car and drove me to the hospital in Flin Flon, MB, where I received my initial treatment before being air ambulanced to Health Science Centre in Winnipeg. I am forever grateful to these women as well, their bravery that fateful day made my initial treatment happen as quickly as it possibly could have.
I have never felt alone on my recovery journey. From the help I received at the accident site, to the friends and family who have always given me love and support, I have been surrounded by love. It has been a source of hope and strength on my journey. My 4 daughters were the core of my recovery strength after my accident. They were the only thing on my mind when I was being rescued, I knew they had lost their dad in the accident, and I was determined that they were not going to lose their mom too. I am a huge advocate for support and help for the family and support people who are beside the survivor. I, as a burn patient, was fighting for my life, but my daughters; who were with me right from the time I got to the Flin Flon hospital, were going through a journey of life implosion. Although they were all old enough to be out of the family home, their dad was gone and their mother was very seriously injured, with injuries that would take years to heal. The life we had known had died in that accident too. I am so proud of the inner strength my daughters were able to draw on to be able to support me during my recovery.
I started going to Burn Survivor support meetings when I was still in Winnipeg, and continue to go to the meetings since moving to Calgary. I also became a volunteer with the Phoenix Society SOAR program; it is my way of giving back for all the support I have received on my journey. The dedicated and skilled doctors, surgeons and professional staff at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary make the care that burn patients receive here second to none. The CFBTS has played a huge role in providing funds to have a fully equipped burn unit. I am so very grateful for and inspired by firefighters, men and women who risk their life every day to save others. My daughters and I have been helped and supported by the CFBTS throughout our recovery journey. It has been through their endless efforts in fundraising and their generous support that we have been able to attend both World Burn Survivor Conferences and Canadian Burn Survivor Conferences. These conferences are a huge source of hope and inspiration for my daughters and I. My burn survivor journey continues, but with love, support, and some hard work, our “new normal” continues to evolve for my family and I.