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Burn Survivors Come Together For Reunion

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The N.C. Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill held its 14th annual reunion for adult burn survivors on Saturday. It's a reunion that has become part of the recovery.

"I woke up one day a normal 10-year-old child. By two o'clock, I was a totally different person," said Frank Hensley, who survived a school fire in Mount Airy in 1957.

"Students were actually thrown from their windows," added Marsha Lowe, a survivor of the same fire.

It took more than four decades for the Mount Airy community to talk about that tragic fire, they said, but both have come to learn that talking is what heals.

"We really feel they thought they'd hurt our feelings by mentioning it, so it was never talked about," Lowe said.

That's why the

Jaycee Burn Center

, which opened in 1981 and serves as many as 400 patients a year, holds a reunion for adult burn survivors once a year. Some stories from the survivors are from long ago, and others are new.

"When adults are burned and they have facial disfiguring or injuries to their hands, they lose their identity," Hensley said.

Retired Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, the keynote speaker at the reunion, knows what it's like to suffer disfiguring burns as an adult. Birdwell survived the 9-11 attacks on the Pentagon. His office was near the spot where a hijacked plane slammed into the building.

"This is the toughest fraternity initiation in the world," Birdwell said. "I remember everything that happened from the moment I heard the noise."

He said his story is tied to national tragedy, but his experience is tied to every person who attended Saturday's reunion.


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