News 12 First at Five, November 13, 2008

This article is Part One in a series on the Joseph M. Still Burn Center.

It's been 30 years since the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta admitted its first patient. Since then, it's become the biggest burn center in the country.

In order to look to the future, the staff wanted to take a look at the past, and only News 12 can take you to the party where they are still surviving.

It's a party no one ever wanted to be invited to, but they do have something to celebrate. The Joseph M. Still Burn Center saved their lives.

None of these people are related, but they're family.

Separately, they all have their own stories of how they ended up at the burn center. "I'm a burn survivor. Burned in a house fire in March of '92, " says Princella Lee-Bridges.
11-year-old Scotti Roberts " was throwing sticks into a fire, and I fell in."
"My motorcycle blew up on me," adds Robert Berdine.

Together, they are the picture of survival, celebrating a big anniversary for the reason they're all connected: the Joseph. M. Still Burn Center.

"So, when we were looking at what can we do for a celebration of 30 years? We decided to have a big reunion and to invite all of our burn survivors back," says Beth Frits, who helped organize the reunion.

It's a chance for old friends to reconnect, and survivors to meet other survivors for the first time. Doctors, nurses, and staff also get to visit with patients who they treated for so long.

Connie Cox's granddaughter is a burn survivor. She came to the reunion because "it's a wonderful experience to come to because you get to see a lot of different people that the burn center has put back together."

Some have scars you can easily see, like the ones Princella Lee-Bridges has come to embrace, and the ones she hopes everyone else will too. "The actual injury itself is not as difficult as it is to get society to accept what you've become."

Others have scars you can't see at all that take a long time to heal. Richard Powers was in high school when he was helping his family put up a fence in his back yard. Electricity from power lined above arced and flowed into the metal he was holding. He almost lost his life to his burns, and it took a long time for him to recover. "Physically, a year," he says. "Emotionally, probably until now."

At the reunion, they all find comfort in one another. Robert Berdine is here because "everybody looks at you as who you are. You know, they look over the burns."

Even family members who took care of burns feel like survivors. "We had to learn how to be caretakers but also, we had to teach her to do what she could, " explains Connie Cox.

Her granddaughter Scotti , however, has something to teach too, and so do the other burn survivors.

Wounds heal, and there's comfort in numbers.


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