FRESNO, California (KSEE/KGPE) – Sharing common experiences with each other, .providing encouragement, comfort and advice–members of the Leon S. Peters Burn Center support group at Community Regional speak out on how important it is to look past societal norms and differences–they want you to know they’ve survived their burns, their scars and are living life.
Gina Espinoza is the spouse of a burn survivor.
“It’s almost indescribable…other people, I think since they don’t know what a burn survivor is, don’t know the needs,” she says.
Espinoza cares for her husband, who experienced a burn injury a few years ago. She says they wouldn’t have made it all these years together if it weren’t for the burn support group.
“When you’re also a burn survivor and you’re the caregiver of one, there’s so much more on top of it that you have to deal with mentally, emotionally and physically and I’ve learned that a lot of relationships don’t last once you leave the hospital and we were together before the accident and we’re together now, still and I absolutely know we would not have gotten this far without our nurses here, without our support group, without the other family members. It’s not just other survivors that we know here, I call this our burn family because they truly are our burn family. I couldn’t put into enough words how much the support group means and how much the support group has done for us.”
The Leon S. Peters Burn Center at Community Regional is the only 24 hour comprehensive burn center between Los Angeles and Sacramento. Medical social worker, Megan Quinn says survivors and those close to them will travel great distances to attend the support group every month, because it meets a need they can’t get anywhere else close to home.
“People drive hours, they drive 3-4 hours to come to this support group because they need that piece –they’re missing it and they drive 3-4 hours to connect with these people because they need it, they need to feel connected and feel this community they have here,” Quinn said.
It’s a safe place where individuals feel accepted and can be themselves.
“The people they see on a regular basis that see this burn injury or something and feel it’s looking great, it looks wonderful and then you go outside and you go to the grocery store and someone sees your burn injury and they have these big open eyes and they’re like, what happened and so our survivors have to face that reaction, those stares from other people and that can be really, really difficult to overcome.”
22-year-old Peter Reynaga has been attending the group since he was 14-years-old, and rarely misses a month.
“Some people don’t realize how much an injury can affect somebody–how much a burn can change someone’s life. I constantly hear…and I guess it’s a medical term, burn victim and I’ve never been a big fan of that word. And I constantly hear it all the time and people will say, oh you’re a burn victim and I’ve always seen it like it’s something that took advantage of you and victimized you, like you are still traumatized by it, but I feel like if you’re able to see past their burn injury and see them as a human being and see that they lead normal lives, you could see that they’re a survivor,” said Reynaga.
Reynaga says he is now in a place where he doesn’t attend the support group for himself as much as he does to help support others going through similar experiences.
“In the beginning I was more in the state where I need support, I need help and that’s why I would come, but now I’m at a point where I’m so comfortable that I even forget that I have my scars sometimes. I’m more in the role of being an example to people of how you can still live and carry a normal life after your scars, after the injuries and that’s why I keep coming back…to give people hope, to give people a positive reinforcement and the people that attend here are like family so it feels good to come see them once a month, I actually look at my schedule and see support group is next week and I look forward to it,” said Reynaga.
Espinoza adds, “We can come here and we know everyone can understand, we can vent and we get so much back, but also we’re at the point now where we love to give back. Whether it’s someone who has lots of years out or somebody who’s just coming out of the hospital, it helps us feel like there’s a purpose in all this by being able to give back to others.”