Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Overcoming Adversity: Being a Burn Survivor

I was tagged by Karen over at a Deaf Mom Shares Her World ( http://putzworld.blogspot.com/ ). This is part of Stephen Hopson's, over at Adversity Universitys, project on the Secrets of Overcoming Adversity ( http://adversityuniversity.blogspot.com/2007/06/secrets-of-dealing-with-adversity.html ).

I was only 20 months old when something happened that would change my life forever: I was burned. My mother was walking home one day, after walking my sister to the bus stop, and she carried me in her arms as she walked along the busy street of Southern Pasadena (California). According to the story that had been told to me many times, only after I was old enough to understand it, this woman was recklessly driving a van in the wrong direction on the street. My mother and I were in this woman's path. My sister was screaming to my mom to watch out but my mother couldn't hear her. The van hit my mom and pinned her to a brick wall. On impactr, I was thrown from my mother's arms and I landed, unconscious, underneath the burning van. If it were not for the firefighters who rescued me from under that burning van. I would've died in the following explosion.

And, yet, I had not escaped from the fire unscathed. The flames from the vehicle burned me. I ended up with third-degree burns on my entire left arm, on the left side of my face, some of the left side of my head, on my back and left side. My left hand was too badly damaged from the accident and my fingers had to be amputated. All that was left of my "stump" of a hand was a tiny piece of thumb. My left ear was also damaged from the fire; only a tiny part of it remained on my head.

The accident left me in a coma for several months. My mother also suffered injury; her left leg, from the knee down, was amputated.
I was only a baby when the accident happened, so I can't remember much. All I later remembered, when I was in my 20s, was flying through the air after the van hit my mom. That's it. My parents refused to allow me to see the newspaper story and they wouldn't allow me to watch the news about it, either. (They had taped it.) It was a very traumatic experience for all of us. Both my mother and I were in and out of the hospital a lot. When I was about 11 or 12, I had a "toe-to-thumb" transplant done on my left hand, to allow me to have a "toe-thumb" finger. Later, two more toes were taken from my other foot and I now had 3 fingers on my left hand. (Here is a picture of my hand as it is today:
http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/37406164/?qo=59&q=by%3Agreenwolf103&qh=sort%3Atime+-in%3Ascraps ) I also had cartilage taken from my right rib to create an "ear" for my left ear. It doesn't look like a "normal" ear but it's an ear enough for me! Until I was 17 years old, I had numerous reconstructive surgical procedures done, taking place in California and New York, by skilled and renowned doctors such as Dr. A. Richard Grossman, Dr. Harry J. Buncke and Dr. Elliott Rose, but never would I look like a "normal" person. This is the one thing which burned deeply within my heart: I wanted to look normal. I wanted to look like everybody else. I didn't want to have burn scars anymore; I wanted SKIN! Real skin!

And growing up with burn scars, getting picked on and bullied by kids in schools that I attended and getting looks of fright or disgust from others I crossed paths with, only added to this desire. As I got older, you could probably imagine how hard it was for me to have dates with boys. I was turned down and rejected many times. I was always "just a friend" and nothing more. My parents often consoled this pain I had to deal with, assuring me that someone VERY special, with a good heart who didn't care about looks, was out there waiting for me to meet someday. (Only years later, in my 30s, did I come to understand and appreciate this wiosdom.) But being a teenager, I didn't really believe this. I had no dates at the school dances. I felt left out while my girlfriends hung around their boyfriends. And of course I blamed my burn scars for this rejection. I didn't want to look like this anymore. I wanted to look normal.

But I eventually learned that...well, we can't really "define" normal now, can we? I mean, what IS normal? Really?

What does it really mean to look like everybody else? What's wrong with looking like...well, like ME?

This is the one thing I often take pride in nowadays. That I look so unique. As much as my appearance's imperfections make me feel so disheartened, no matter how it saddens and angers me that people and children can react so negatively to how I look, I still take pride in the fact that I DON'T look like everybody else. I look like me. This is me. This is Dawn Colclasure, burns and all. This is who I am and how I present myself to the world. This is my "normal." And I will not hide from my scars in shame. This is part of the reason why I refuse to wear make-up. I am not ashamed of my face. I am not ashamed of how I look. And I will not hide behind make-up or some mask, either.

I have ultimately learned, though, that life is not about how we look. It's about who we are. It's about the kind of life we live in this world. It's about what we do for ourselves and for others. It's about giving, about sharing, about helping, about leading. It's not about beauty...it's about love. Loving ourselves for who we are, not for how we look. Loving others for who they are, not how they look.

And most important of all....loving our life.

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  • At 3:37 AM , Blogger Stephen J. Hopson said...


    I want to THANK YOU for sharing your heartfelt story with your readers and for participating in the "Adversity University" tagging experiement. Your story touched me deeply. It was obvious that you put your whole heart into writing this story.

    You are RIGHT when you say it's about WHO WE ARE that matters. Not what we look like. Wow, what a good reminder.

    The part that made me tear up is when you said you eventually met someone who loved you for who you were. That was very moving for me.


    Stephen Hopson

  • At 7:38 AM , Blogger Karen Putz said...

    Thanks for sharing-- I learned more about you and now I feel like I know you better! :)

  • At 10:24 AM , Blogger Jana B said...

    Wow Dawn... I had no idea you'd experienced all of this. I'm glad you shared.

    Did the woman who hit you recieve any kind of punishment?

    I'm glad you have learned to love yourself... and refuse to be ashamed! YOU GO GIRL!!!!

  • At 1:43 PM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Hi, Stephen! Thank you for the comment. :) I'm glad you enjoyed reading this blog post. I'll admit I had some reservations about sharing so much about me, but writing this experience was very rewarding in and of itself. I really hope it will inspire others who may have gone through the same experiences I have.

    Take care and thank you! :)

    Karen: Thank you so much for reading my post. We have been chatting for quite some time, yet sometimes there are still little things we find out about each other. I am glad to have met you and to learn about YOU, as well! :)

    Jana: Thank you for commenting. :) You're darn right I refuse to be ashamed! I am proud to be a burn survivor! There is no shame in surviving burns. Society does, unfortunately, place too much significance on looks and a person's appearance. I will not have any part of that. I truly believe it's what's on the INSIDE of a person that matters. Someone once said to me, "We all have scars. Some of them are just not visible." That is so true. As to the lady who hit us, my parents did take them to court and there was some restitution which took place.

  • At 5:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Dawn -- I too was burned as a toddler and can relate to everything you shared. That took bravery to write so intimately from your heart. I commend you for that. I am still, as a 49 year old woman, learning to flex my self-esteem issues and get beyond the physical and focus on what really matters. There are some rather shallow people in this world -- sometimes we have to shift through those types to get to the gems -- the latter being few and far between. Well...thank you for sharing. It comforted me hearing from someone who knows what it's like to walk in my moccasins...Cindy


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