Don’s Story: Living with burns

Meet Don Adamson. He’s 60 years old and lives in Alberta with his son. He was badly burned in a car fire and is now active in the burn survivor community.

Interviewed by CSPA Board member Preet Bhogal

CSPA Burn PatientTell us a bit about your background as a burn survivor. I’ve worked in the aircraft industry as an avionics maintenance engineer for 38 years. In this business, fire safety is at the top of everyone’s mind and I have always been extremely safety conscious. Ironically, one night when I was on the way home my gas tank exploded and I got caught in a car fire.

Fortunately I don’t remember much about the fire. Over 50 per cent of my body was burned to the third degree and my lungs were badly compromised. I was in an induced coma for 20-plus days while the medical staff did their best to keep me alive. After waking up, I spent another three months in hospital undergoing skin grafts and physiotherapy. Once at home, over the next 18 months, I underwent several operations and more physical and occupational therapy.

How’s life these days? Through first-class care and therapy and lots of hard work I have returned to some normalcy of living. I have been able to return to work and am very active within the burn community. I have attended at least five burn conferences in Canada and the U.S. and am organizing the 2012 Canadian Burn Conference to be held in Calgary.

How have your burns affected your day-to-day living? I developed psoriasis after my burns—and strangely enough only where I was burned. My dermatologist has been able to help but there are still challenges to be faced.

Itching is a big problem for all burn survivors, especially once nerves start to come back online. I try not to scratch too much, as new skin is easily damaged.

I have not smoked since the day I was burned. This has helped my body recover quickly after 15-plus skin grafts. Fellow burn survivors who do smoke very often lose their grafts because they are still smoking.

Burn scars don’t like too much sun. You can end up with a permanent tan in patches, which does not help with your appearance if you are already scarred. This means lots of cover and SPF 50 sunscreen when I’m outside—and as a golfer I limit my time in the sun.

When I’m at work I’m careful about chemicals and fuel coming into contact with my skin. I was always this way, but I’m doubly vigilant now.

What kinds of support have helped you most? Our burn unit runs a SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) program as well as a burn survivor group where new burn survivors can receive peer support. It has a good resource library, and burn survivors and their families can be pointed in the right direction for whatever help they may need to aid in both their physical and emotional recovery.

Do your burns affect your relationships with other people? People look at me differently. It’s inevitable.

In some cases, the burning is harder for family members than for the actual burn survivor. For this reason I always consider them to be burn survivors as well. Being active in burn survivor groups, burn conferences and peer support is key to ensuring survivors and their family members do not have to cope alone with their scars and infirmities. This has been very important for my recovery.

What would you like others to know about burns? I volunteer with the Calgary Fire Department Community Safety Division telling school children what it is like to be burned. Since I started with them we have taken this message to several thousand school kids. This has become very important to me. I would never want anyone to go through what I had to. At the same time I always tell them I am the luckiest guy in the room because I have the best message to bring to them: “Always make wise choices and be fire safe.”


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