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More Than Medicine

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We wanted to have lunch together so I  collected places for us to sit. A wheelchair from the hallway, one random chair outside a room, mom’s scooter and the bed’s edge would have to do for the five of us.   Mom had been at the Joseph Still Burn Center for a few days, her first of three surgeries behind her. An infection that threatened to take her entire leg had ravaged.  I raised her bed some and she sat up. I rubbed lavender lotion on her dry hands, being careful not to touch the iv. It was sore and painful from all the prodding.

Although mom’s  injury was not a burn, the wound that she had suffered from an accident with her horse had become serious and full of infection.  The services she was seeking in her small town in northern Georgia were helpful but we knew that the road would be much longer without the skill of a world-renowned wound and burn care center. How fortunate that we knew that the expertise and facilities existed just a few miles from our home. We had never utilized the center but knew that patients from all over the country were transferred here for the best care.

My son arrived in the room first, a bag of Panera salads in his hands. It was then that I noticed what a ragged collection of seats we had pulled around her bed. Being together meant everything in these moments.  It was Mother’s Day.  But one unlike any other we had celebrated.  In room 1006 on the burn and wound unit floor, the facility was near capacity.

I remembered then how one of the staff members had told us about the Burn Foundation and neighboring Chavis House.  Before the Foundation, family members were sleeping on the floor of this hospital, desiring to stay close to their loved ones who had suffered life-altering burns and wounds. Family members could now stay there, close to those they love.

My husband offered a prayer of gratitude.  We knew that looking around the halls of this place that we were lucky.  Perspective is a precious thing. Because when others are undergoing amputations and rehabilitation from burn wounds it will straight up awaken you to the present, to the right now, to every small gift, as humble as it may seem.

A dear friend came to visit us that night and told mom and I the story of Joseph M. Still, the hospital’s founder who had dedicated his entire professional life to improvements in the treatment of burn patients.  How he partnered with Doctor’s Hospital to create one of the world’s leading treatment facilities for burn victims. His care carried far beyond hospital walls. He also founded the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping burn patients and their families with non-medical necessities.

He  was a visionary, seeing the bigger picture that most could not see. Determined, generous, compassionate, hard-working, risk taking, problem-solving. Dr. Still’s dream was to provide a place for family members to stay while their loved ones were in the Burn Center.  In his words “A family’s love is powerful medicine.”

It was apparent that his legacy lived on through every single worker: from the nurses and surgeons, to the care team that showed up to be sure my mom and stepfather knew that they could stay for free at the neighboring Chavis House for as long as necessary to be near the facility and receive homemade meals.

Mom ended up having three surgeries in all and did utilize the Chavis House as our home has too many stairs for her to maneuver with the wound vac that became her constant companion.

Just last week, six months after my mother’s release from the hospital, I was given a tour of both the burn unit and the Chavis House, meeting and thanking physicians, nurses, and foundation staff  personally for the care that my mother and our entire family received during her multiple surgeries. Although we live in Augusta, my mom had traveled from 3 ½ hours away and the staff had made sure her and my stepfather’s needs were met with free housing and meals as needed.

During my tour my guide Sherrie remembered me and offered an open hug, inquiring about my mom’s recovery.  She was on the phone coordinating the intake of a patient from the Caribbean while checking on families of children in the ICU.   My eyes welled with tears as I met Katie, a former patient of the center who also joined our tour. She had been burned on 75% of her body after being set on fire with gasoline.  Katie spent 7 months at the center while her family from Minnesota was housed at the Chavis House. One after another, the nurses of the ICU hugged Katie. It was the day that she announced to them all that she is now pregnant, a miracle after all she has been through.  

As I peeked into a child’s room in the ICU I was overwhelmed with gratitude., that such a place exists not just for us here Augusta, but for those in need of this level of care from all over the world. . I heard stories of patients (including Katie) that were told by other facilities that they should simply make funeral arrangements. There was nothing that could be done medically for the extent of their burns.

But the Joseph Still  Burn center does not turn away patients and infuses more hope into situations than I have ever witnessed.  Their work is relentless and filled with genuine love with a focus on family support, all while they serve on the front lines in one of the most challenging lines of work.

I stepped into the room where triage occurs when patients are helicoptered in.  I had heard those helicopter blades turning more times than I care to remember during my mother’s stay, each time breathing a silent prayer.

I was also struck that every component of care  is named for a person. An individual who understood the both the power of state of the art medicine like oxygen chambers, wound vacs, reconstruction, prosthesis  and other innovative procedures offered at the burn center, and the life-altering impact of family that is equally needed to support the long term recovery of patients.

The Joseph M. Still Burn Center is the largest burn unit in the United States. As the Burn Center grows, so do the needs for the Burn Foundation. In 2017

  • 1435 guests received free lodging at the Chavis House
  • 48% of Chavis House guests were Georgia residents
  • 25% of burn patients were children
  • 14,700 meals were served at the Chavis House, all prepared and donated by local churches and other organizations

The Burn Foundation provides

  • The  Jeffrey Vaden Chavis House which sleeps forty guests and serves as a home-away-from-home where family members are able to  stay near their loved ones as they recuperate from their injuries. The house is named in memory of firefighter Jeff Chavis who lost his life as a result of burns he suffered in the line of duty.
  • The Shirley Badke Retreat, named for a courageous burn survivor, is home to the administrative offices
  • The Orlet Garden of Hope provides a place where our guests can get away from the hospital environment, pray, meditate or simply enjoy the natural beauty of the garden.

In addition to housing and meals, last year hundreds of burn survivors received assistance with:

  • medication
  • transportation
  • anti-scarring garments
  • peer support
  • Gas vouchers/ bus tickets
  • Peer support

Last week my mother rode her horse for the first time since her accident. Her ability to return to activities that she loves is nothing short of a miracle made possible because of the selfless vision of Dr. Still and the staff that now assures that no patient feels alone along their long road to recovery.

I stand in gratitude and offer my voice and our experience as a testimony to the selfless work being done daily, right here in our own backyard.

To support the ongoing needs for free, supportive services for patients and their families I urge you to contribute.You can join me and Troy as we seek to further Dr. Still’s legacy by clicking this link.  Every gift, no matter the size, will bring comfort to families facing traumatic burns.


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