Victor Joe, MD, walked into the Christmas party feeling a little self-conscious.
The director of the UC Irvine Health Regional Burn Center was sporting a white bandage on his right earlobe following a minor medical procedure.
Looking around the room of some 300 burn survivors and their loved ones Tuesday night at the Anaheim Convention Center, the realization quickly hit:
“Most of us get concerned over little things like this,” said Dr. Joe, referring to his bandage. “But these people? It really puts things in perspective.”
The burn survivors at the party, hosted by Anaheim Fire & Rescue with a big assist from the Convention Center and the non-profit organizations Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors and the Children’s Burn Foundation, included Valentina Serrano, 3, of Compton, who with other attendees enjoyed food, a visit with Santa, and crafts.
On Sept. 13, 2012, just before her 10-month birthday, Valentina suffered life-threatening second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of her tiny body after her father accidentally scalded her in a bathtub.
Valentina’s life hung in the balance for five or six days, said her mother, Raquel Serrano, 25. She spent three months in the hospital and one month undergoing physical therapy.
The only part of Valentina’s body that was not extensively scarred is her back, buttocks and face.
As Valentina and her sister, Camila, 5, darted around the party after fueling up on mac and cheese, sliders, Christmas cookies and other treats, Raquel, a nursing student, talked about the importance of burn survivors getting together.
Severe burns leave physical as well as mental scars, and only burn survivors can relate to the pain of being stared out while in public and coping with other issues unique to their injuries.
“Valentina’s not only burn survivor,” Raquel said, “but so am I and her sister. It’s very important, even for adults, to relate to other burn survivors.”
Unlike people diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other common killers, burn survivors comprise a relatively small community, said Dr. Joe, whose burn center in Orange sees about 300 admission a year, almost all for burn injuries. In addition, the center sees about 3,000 burn and wound outpatients every year.
“Many of these patients deal with extensive scarring that causes not only issues about self-image, but also affects their mobility,” Dr. Joe said.
Half of all burn injuries suffered by children are due to scalding, Dr. Joe added.
For two decades, the UC Irvine Health Regional Burn Center has been holding the holiday get-together. A limited budget, however, threatened this year’s event until Anaheim Fire & Rescue stepped up as host, with help from the Convention Center.
More than a half-dozen Anaheim Fire representatives donated their time to help make the party a success, including Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman.
“This is a really great opportunity for these survivors to get together and celebrate the holidays,” Bruegman said.