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Friday, August 26, 2011

Cavan Burn Survivor Counts Blessings!

One Decision Can Make A Difference!

Tyler Cairns survived devastating burns at age four, and grew to be an inspiration to children, and adults across Canada. Tyler's story is featured on the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund site. Here is Tyler's story in his own words:

Survivor Profile - Tyler Cairns

My story starts as a very energetic, inquisitive and adventurous little four year old, without a care in the world and a smile on my face ear to ear! Christmas had just past, we were all full of turkey and wondrous sweets, and I had just started school. Like any child, I was playing with all my new toys and trinkets and started my day like any other. I put on my new Batman tracksuit (the string of my track pants was making me itchy because it went past my knees), and headed downstairs to play and watch my morning cartoons - never thinking that with one decision this would be a Christmas that we would never forget.
I was burned in Cavan, Ontario, on January, 7th 1989. I was in my living room and my mother had just gone upstairs to get dressed, saying she would cut the long strings off my track pants when she came back down. I guess I couldn’t wait because, before my mom had her socks on, I tried to burn off the string on my track pants with a lighter (like some people do with a thread of string). Needless to say, it didn’t have the same effect. My tracksuit instantly went up in flames, and I tried to put out the fire with my left hand. But with every pat on my chest, my hand just became more and more covered in the plastic as the Batman logo on the front just kept burning.
I was really lucky with my next decision. I could have run downstairs and hidden away scared, but thankfully I ran upstairs. My sister came out of her room and saw me standing there and screamed like I’ve never heard before - 'Tyler’s on fire!', and rushed to call 911. My mom then came out to see what the matter was, thinking it was a joke. When she saw me, she screamed and ran and to get my father who was still sleeping at the time, jumped down the stairs,] and wrapped me up in a comforter. Thank God my mom was a nurse because right after the flames were put out, they laid me down on wet towels on the floor. I remember trying to move my hand and how much it hurt. I looked over at it, all yellow and white with touches of black ; it looked like a candle! I don’t remember looking at my left hand so I don’t have a lot of memory of the fingers that I later lost! From what my mother and doctors told me, my fingers had seized up, and from the second knuckle down the tissue was dead!
We lived out in the country so it took the fire department a little longer to get to me, and I still remember the sound my chest made when they poured cold water on it: 'sssssssss' like sizzling steak. I kept going in and out of consciousness until I finally passed out just before reaching the ambulance. Getting into a hospital was difficult as the first three the Medivac team tried were full or didn’t have the facilities I required. I almost went to Scotland when a place in Boston opened up, and just as we were on the runway in a Lear jet, we got a call from London , Ontario there was a spot in a hospital that had both the space and facilities I needed.
Once there, after numerous surgeries] I was induced into a coma where I almost succumbed to a burn infection on my back and upper bottom. I was not burned on the areas where the infection was most severe. It was [due] to all the skin [grafts] my little body had to endure due to the extent of my burns!
I woke up a month later and found out that I had gotten third degree, full thickness burns just over 85% of my body in only 2 minutes. The doctors said that I would never talk or walk, and I probably wouldn’t be able to see. 'I don’t know if he’ll make it through the night ' or 'he’s not out of the woods yet' were common phrases used. Of course as survivors you know about the masks, Jobst garments, splints (my least favourite being the airplane) and occupational therapy, learning how to walk again, and how to use your hands like you would normally! All the things we take for granted on a daily basis! Thankfully over time and after plenty more surgery, I was running up and down the ward naked singing the Batman song!!! (Na na na na Batman!!!). I was in hospital for three months and three weeks.
When I went home, I soon returned to school. My mom had the school have an assembly to talk about what had happened to me, and we tried to go back to normal. My new attire didn’t go down so well. Being burned so young, I had to grow up very fast and that gave me a different outlook on life. Later on, once I was able to handle being teased (my belief was that they just lacked knowledge about the subject) , what helped me heal was to help my peers who were also being teased and to make people aware of what had happened and how to cope!
Being Burned Blessed Me
Being burned has also blessed me in sooo many ways! I wouldn’t have been able to meet all the wonderful people that have been in my life and who have helped me so much over the years. I had the pleasure of opening the first Safety House in Ontario. I was then introduced to Burn Camp - my first one being out here in B.C. and then the next year I went to Alberta. The year after that, I went to Camp Bucko, which is a burn camp in Ontario where I volunteer as a counsellor to this day! When I was 15, I had the pleasure of attending the IAFF Burn Camp in Washington D.C. I’m also going to be getting involved with the burn camp out here as well. Each of the camps has given me something else to look forward to in life.
I just wanted to say thank you to everyone that helped in my rescue and in my recovery. Without you, I wouldn’t be here!
Tyler CairnsAlso I want to thank my mother (may she rest in peace) who stood by me every step of the way, making me believe that I can do anything I put my mind to! Without her, I wouldn’t be the man I am today!!!
Find more information about Burn Camps and how you can help make a difference

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