Support and Recovery

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The world's largest gathering of the burn community is happening in Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 12 – 15, 2018.

West Michigan Woman spoke with Amy Acton, burn survivor and Executive Director of the Phoenix Society, about the 30th Annual Phoenix World Burn Congress and what the West Michigan community should know about burn survivors.

Drawing attendees from countries all over the world, among them New Zealand and China, the annual Drawing brings together burn survivors, their families, medical professionals, and first responders to share stories, provide support and increase knowledge of burn recovery.

"It's about community and bringing together people who, oftentimes, have had a very traumatic experience," said Amy Acton, a burn survivor who has been the Executive Director of the Phoenix Society for the past 20 years.

"I'll never forget the response from a burn survivor and her family that came to the Congress one year from Ohio: She said she came looking for information and left feeling love."

Acton adds that it's not what you might imagine when you walk through the doors at the event.

"There's a lot of hope, inspiration and positivity from other people that allows you to let your guard down and be vulnerable. It's an empowering environment!"

Now entering its 30th year, the Congress is reaching more people in the burn community than ever before, thanks to a virtual experience that can be live-streamed to a computer, smartphone or tablet. This year's conference will also feature powerful keynote speeches from burn survivors Dennis J. Gardin and Samoana Matagi, who have overcome difficult life challenges and want to share their message with others.

To mark the beginning of the 2018 Phoenix World Burn Congress, event attendees, local firefighters, burn care professionals and Grand Rapids community members will gather for a Walk of Remembrance, an annual tradition honoring those lost to burn injuries and the impact on communities, on Thursday, September 13, at 8:30 a.m.

The community can take part in extending a warm welcome to conference attendees by viewing Phoenix Society's 20-minute presentation, Phoenix World Burn Congress Sensitivity Training. The presentation is designed to introduce the general public to the burn survivor community. It's vital that business owners, as well as hotel and restaurant teams, equip themselves with the knowledge needed to ensure those attending the Phoenix World Burn Congress feel welcome and embraced in Grand Rapids.

Buses by the Beach, a Grand Rapids-based Volkswagen enthusiast group that regularly raises money for the Phoenix Society, will welcome attendees—some who may have never flown before—at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

"If you're there and see us coming through the airport, be sure to smile and say hi to us!" said Acton.

In addition to sensitivity training, the Phoenix Society offers social skills training for burn survivors, meant to boost their confidence about going out in public after a burn injury.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about those with burn injuries and you never really hear about what happens after the initial event. We want people to know that burn survivors can go on to have very productive and positive lives."

The main thing Acton wants you to know about burn survivors?

The rest of the story.

"People that have burn injuries are just like you. We have experienced a trauma; some traumas are visible and others are not. Burn survivors don't want to be treated like they're special like heroes or victims, but just as everyone else."

If you're interested in volunteering or registering for the Phoenix World Burn Congress or learning more about the organization and the programs it offers to assist burn survivors in every stage of recovery, visit Phoenix Society.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.

Photo courtesy of Carrie Rosema.

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