Salve for Their Burns : Injured Children Gain Sense of Joy, Freedom at Camp

Associated Press

From a distance, a visitor wouldn’t know that a group of noisy children and teen-agers bustling around a foothill summer camp share the deep emotional and physical scars that accompany disfiguring burns.

That’s because “we try to give them a whole week to be free of their burn,” said Shirley Turner, who heads a special camp for burn victims.

Children Frolic Noisily

A sense of joy and freedom permeated the Wonder Valley Ranch 30 miles east of Fresno recently as 77 young burn survivors from Mexico to Washington state noisily frolicked in a swimming pool, rode ponies around the dusty grounds or cast a fishing line into a trout pond.


“If my mom wouldn’t have taken me, I would have walked here,” said David, an 11-year-old burn survivor enjoying the weeklong camp sponsored by the Alisa Ann Ruch California Burn Foundation. “The counselors are real cool. They treat you really nice.”

Turner, the foundation’s executive director, described the camp as a sort of therapy to help fortify a burn victim’s self-esteem. Most important, it lets them simply be kids in an environment free from society’s insensitivity to their plight, she said.

“That’s why camp is so good for them--they don’t have to deal with the accident,” Turner said. “We don’t want them reliving that.”

The children splashing in the camp pool on a hot summer morning played as if they had never endured painful skin grafts, worn an uncomfortable pressure garment to reduce a burn’s swelling or been cruelly teased by other youngsters about their disfigurement.

Corky and Cecily splashed around, and Corky stretched her scarred arm around Cecily’s back, proclaiming with a wide smile: “We’re friends.”

The volunteer counselors, mostly firefighters and their spouses, find the camp equally rewarding.


“If you come up here for a week, you get enough hugs and kisses to last a year,” said Nan Ziegler, a nurse from Long Beach.

“I love them. They are just little kids. They can forget what they look like,” said Christen Powell, a lifeguard from Clovis. “I’m going to miss these kids as soon as they leave.”

Turner said such a loving and accepting environment isn’t typical for burn survivors. Society in general is leery of burn victims, she said. Some gawk at a survivor’s blistered and grafted skin, while others treat them like pariahs. She told the story of a restaurant owner asking a family to leave because the sight of their child, a burn victim, made his patrons uncomfortable.

These experiences, along with the fact that many burn victims remain physically scarred for life, add up to a “devastating” psychological effect on the victims and their families, Turner said.

“Now that (doctors) have solved the major medical problems and are able to keep them alive, they are now concentrating on the quality of life,” she said.

All Expenses Paid

The foundation actually has to hunt for children to bring to the camp because the group’s activities are not widely known. All expenses for the children brought to the camp are paid by the foundation’s fund-raising efforts and volunteer labor. Turner estimated the cost of a week in Wonder Valley, which ends with a trip to Disneyland, at about $100,000.


Judging by the radiant grins gracing many of the children’s faces, it appeared to be money well spent.

“Today and this week they are just kids,” she said. She hoped the camp would “give them everything they (need) so they can be strong enough inside to take and handle the pressures their peers and adults give them.”