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RapidChat: Amy Acton on being a burn survivor, the importance of peer support, and more

At the age of 18, Amy Acton suffered from an electrical burn. She reveals that "I often found myself wondering why this happened, why I survived and the other person didn’t, and how I could help prevent something like this from ever happening again." Now, serving as Executive Director of Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Amy uses her experience as inspiration — highlighting the importance of peer support in every burn survivor's recovery process.
Amy Acton

At the age of 18, Amy Acton suffered from an electrical burn. She reveals that "I often found myself wondering why this happened, why I survived and the other person didn’t, and how I could help prevent something like this from ever happening again." Now, serving as Executive Director of Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Amy uses her experience as inspiration — highlighting the importance of peer support in every burn survivor's recovery process.
Rapid Growth: What inspired you to start a career in burn recovery services?

Amy Acton: My own personal burn injury experience was a major catalyst in inspiring me to start a career in burn recovery services. Before my injury, I knew that I wanted to be a nurse, but my experience changed the trajectory for what I wanted to focus on. Two years after graduation, I attended my first Phoenix Society World Burn Congress as a new burn nurse. After my time at the conference, I fully understood that physical care was just one piece of recovery, and that the resources and peer support that people needed for true long-term healing were missing.

RG: What is it like to go through such trauma yourself?

AA: I suffered an electrical burn injury at my job at a marina when I was 18. This was the summer before I planned to attend college and study to become a nurse. The injury resulted in a two-and-a-half month stay at a burn center. Being a young adult, I had a lot of fears and concerns about what my new life path might look like. I was worried that I would not be able to physically attend school and fulfill my dream of becoming a nurse, I wondered if I would ever get married, and I had issues with my new appearance. 

I didn’t openly speak about many of my fears, and I kept a lot of the “scary” thoughts inside. Although I had a wonderful and supportive family, and resources at the Spectrum Health burn center, I still felt isolated. Recovering from a burn injury can be lonely, as people who have not experienced a similar trauma don’t fully understand, through no fault of their own, what it is like to recover and adjust to a new body image.

RG: You have a passion for burn prevention — what does this entail?

AA: The accident that caused my burn injury, and one person to lose their life, was preventable. While people don’t often think about powerlines at a marina with masts sticking up, it was something that could have been avoided if proper safety measures were in place. I often found myself wondering why this happened, why I survived and the other person didn’t, and how I could help prevent something like this from ever happening again. I wanted to make sure no one else had to experience this type of tragedy.

RG: Typically, how accessible are recovery resources for burn survivors?

AA: Accessibility to long-term recovery resources is still a challenge in this country, and even more dire in other parts of the world. While the United States is advanced medically, there are only 120 burn centers in the entire country. When people leave the burn unit and go back to their homes, often in another city or state, there may not be another burn survivor in their community. Although peer support is crucial for long-term healing, driving or flying back for a support group at a burn center every week is typically not a viable option for most people.

RG: What brought you to the Phoenix Society? 

AA: After spending 12-13 years in the burn center, I felt it was time for the next frontier in burn care. The quality of the acute care in this country has improved to such a level that people are surviving burn injuries that they never would have before. This meant that there was a wide open field of work that needed focus: long-term healing after the burn trauma.

RG: What are some the organization's most utilized programs?

AA: Our Phoenix SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) program has had the largest impact on burn care, as this has become a standard program that has been adopted by many burn centers. To be a verified burn center, it is now required to have after-care programs in part because of the impact of the Phoenix SOAR program. The program offers one-on-one hospital-based peer support that connects survivors with others who have faced similar struggles. This program is active in over 70 hospitals and we have a network of over 1,000 trained volunteers across the country.

RG: Are there any other programs within West Michigan focused on helping burn survivors?

AA: Phoenix Society is a national organization with programs all over the country, but we are able to drill down to a local level and ensure that people who need support are able to get the resources they need, including those in West Michigan. Being headquartered in Grand Rapids has been extremely beneficial for our organization. In this area, our team has a long history with Spectrum Health, as they helped fund the development of our Phoenix SOAR program with a grant. We have hosted many events with local partners, including a recent burn awareness event at the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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