Healing retreats for young women with burn and trauma injuries

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Michelle, an Ontario native was travelling in the US with her family when they were involved in a tragic accident. The accident left Michelle with third degree burns covering 74 per cent of her body and a very long road to recovery.

With our hospitals’ dedication, commitment, and medical advances in treating burns and trauma, patients who survive an 80 per cent plus burn injury are common.  Just twenty years ago their survival rate was dismal.

Today’s problem lies in the aftercare of that burn patient once they are discharged. Their lives are saved, but their tomorrows are a nightmare of stares, unwanted questions and worse – gawks from children.

Hating to leave home, they suffer a “social death,” and have no tools for handling their very different appearance. Particularly affected are girls and young women, for whom appearances are seemingly everything. Enter Angel Faces.

Angel Faces is a nonprofit organization that provides healing retreats and ongoing support for adolescent girls and young women with burn/trauma injuries. It provides tools to help them achieve their optimum potential and develop meaningful relationships for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Adolescent girls like Michelle, flock to the retreats from all over the world, including Canada.  They arrive hungry to overcome their fear of being accepted despite the way they look – catastrophic scars crawling across their once beautiful faces and bodies.  They arrive yearning to embrace who they are, but filled with fears of never being loved and questions like “why me?”

I created and launched Angel Faces from by my own pain as a young girl, so my answer, “Why not you?” is a response from the heart and from experience.  I was severely burned over 50 per cent of my face and body in a natural gas explosion at the age of nine.  My grandparents’ home was destroyed.  I tossed and turned on my journey with severe scars – I knew pain both inside and out.

Having continuously done everything I could to heal and live fully, I learned that the accident brought its blessings. As an adult woman, I knew I could help those who had been burned, who were fumbling.

Each retreat the girls arrive with scars of various shape and depth over what once was fresh skin.  The depth of their scars is not even close to the depth of the inner pain that came with those scars.  Some have lost a family member in the tragic accident; most have lost their childhood.

Their suitcases are full of clothes and toiletries but the heavier burden is the invisible suitcase of pain and rejection they carry with them everywhere.  From the cozy living room to the pool, to the yoga field and dining room, they drag their invisible suitcase behind.

Angel Faces’ retreats are run by a team of devoted volunteers that includes a licensed psychologist, an art therapist, nurses and fire captains. Best-of-the-best women who are willing to leave their own pain, struggles and challenges at home, they bring their love, life lessons, compassion, expertise, time, strength, courage and spiritual wisdom to girls they have never met.   We have a powerful force of commitment and duty to pull the girls up from pain and direct them onto a goal setting future.

As a non-profit, Angel Faces relies on its donors and supporters.  Our program touches lives.  As evidence, we have hundreds of communiqués from the parents, “Thank you for giving my daughter back,” our award-winning published research at the American Burn Conference, and the continuing progress of the girls themselves.

“When I flew out here to Angel Faces, I sat on the plane with my head down  – so scared the person next to me would look at me or talk to me,” says Angela, a first time Angel Faces participant. “When I flew home, I introduced myself to my seatmate and said hello – I have a whole new life waiting for me.”  Angela doesn’t need to pay a baggage fee for her invisible luggage filled with pain anymore. It no longer exists.

Angel Faces works.

Michelle first flew out to the California retreat in 2010 after applying online and receiving a scholarship to cover the cost. “I have attended the retreat first as a girl then I attend the mentorship/leadership retreat as a young woman.  For girls with any type of facial disfigurement, at any stage in their life I highly recommend the retreat. It’s amazing. I came back having received so much love and made great relationships. If you attend you will leave with so much more than you went with,” Michelle says.

Girls are often referred from burn/ trauma centers or they can apply online at www.angelfacesretreat.org for the retreats that target their age group. The fee to attend varies the ranging from $1,500 – $3,500 per participant.  Most girls and young women who have suffered a trauma/burn cannot pay – Angel Faces raises money and is able to offer scholarships and sponsorships.