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!