Burn survivors to gather in Anaheim this week for support, empowerment, camaraderie


They’re survivors, not victims.

Some of their scars are visible. Some are not.

And, in most cases, emotional healing takes much longer than physical healing.

This week, about 900 burn survivors from around the world — joined by their families, caregivers, burn-care professional and firefighters — will gather in Anaheim for the 26th annual Phoenix World Burn Congress.

The event is held by the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering anyone affected by a burn injury. Based in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Phoenix Society was founded in 1977 by Alan Breslau, who survived a commercial airline crash in 1963.

For the first time, Anaheim Fire & Rescue will serve as host fire agency for the four-day event at the Anaheim Convention Center that kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22 with a “Walk of Remembrance.”

The public is invited to participate in the walk, which begins in the lobby of the Hilton Anaheim (777 W. Convention Way) and continues to the Anaheim Convention Center Grand Plaza (for more information, click here).

The “Walk of Remembrance” will honor those who have died from burn injuries and acknowledge the losses members of the burn community have experienced.

Firefighters from Orange County and Los Angeles will join Anaheim firefighters in escorting Phoenix World Burn Congress attendees during the walk.

One attendee will be 50-year-old Angel Almazan, who was seriously burned Dec. 6, 2009.

Almazan was sharing an apartment in Santa Ana with his brother when Almazan connected the coffee pot and then took a nap on the couch.

The electric coffee pot caused a short that ignited a fire.

Almazan’s brother was able to escape the apartment without injury.

Almazan, a construction worker and father of five, wasn’t so lucky.

UC Irvine Health doctors told his family that he had suffered burns over more than 50 percent of his body, mostly on his face and upper body. They didn’t think he would survive more than 72 hours.

Almazan’s daughter, Maritza Tucker, then 24, was asked to identify her father in the hospital.

“I didn’t even recognize him,” she recalls. “I was in total denial. He looked like a totally different person.”

About 5½ months later, Almazan awoke from an induced coma at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange. He spent another 3 ½ months there before he was released.

Since then, Tucker, a married mother of three young children, has taken her father into her home in Lake Elsinore. He no longer can work but helps around the house.

This will be the third Phoenix World Burn Congress for Tucker and her father.

“It’s an important event for me because I get to see other burn survivors,” Almazan said. “This event gives me hope and reminds me that I’m not the only one.”

Almazan says the most difficult experience after the accident was going through three months of grueling physical therapy at a rehabilitation facility.

He says he became depressed because he had to push himself hard to realize even the smallest improvements in mobility. The glacier-slow progress of being able to do things on his own again was frustrating, he says.

But the hard work paid off.

Almazan still can’t lift heavy objects and cannot eat a lot at meals because two-thirds of his intestines were removed, but now he can do nearly everything on his own.

After attending two Phoenix World Burn Congresses in New York City and Milwaukee, Almazan says he’s looking forward to spending time with fellow burn survivors and their supporters in Anaheim.

He and his daughter now help Spanish-speaking families of burn survivors.

And both strive to live up to the namesake of the nonprofit that has helped them so much, rising up from the ashes even more brilliant from before.