Burn survivors attend reunion at UNC Hospitals

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Raleigh fire chief and volunteer at the burn center Larry Stanford and Shirley Massey, Chaplain at the burn center dance at the reunion banquet for survivors.

George Kenan celebrated his 100th birthday and 26th year as a burn survivor at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center’s 22nd annual “Celebration of Life” event Saturday.

Kenan was 74 when he was burned while trying to repair a broiler at his dry cleaning business. The broiler exploded, and three-fourths of his body was covered with second and third degree burns.

The accident brought him to UNC Hospitals, and while doctors did not expect for him to live, Kenan was able to leave the hospital three months later.

Ever since the accident, Kenan has been a strong supporter of UNC Hospital’s burn center, and he attends the Celebration of Life reunion every year. He was one of the guest speakers at this year’s event.

Kenan was introduced as the oldest living burn survivor.

“I keep coming to the reunion because it just feels good to be here,” he said.

The event was first started by the hospital’s burn center chaplain Shirley Massey in 1991 after she saw a need for further support for burn survivors. Massey organized this year’s event as well.

Kenan’s grandson, Randall Kenan, also spoke at the event. Randall Kenan is a professor of english and comparative literature at UNC.

Randall Kenan said his grandfather has served as a role model to him.

“He did not give up,” Randall Kenan said. “And I believe his success impacted the way surgeons treat burn victims today.”

Dr. Bruce Cairns, a burn trauma surgeon at UNC Hospitals, said the burn center is now one of the biggest in the country. He said they are looking to have over 1,400 admissions this year, which would be a record number for the center.

“It’s one person at a time, one family at a time, one situation at a time,” Cairns said. “Being here has been such an inspiration for me.”

The reunion was held at the Friday Center and had about 300 participants.

Participants included burn survivors, their friends and family, burn center staff and community volunteers.

Oyoana Allende, a burn survivor of eight years, said she has been coming to the reunion for four years and appreciates the support she receives. Allende was burned while serving in the Marines in Iraq.

“I like coming because I get to talk to others who have gone through similar experiences,” she said. “I really enjoy the workshops where I get to hear other peoples’ stories and how they overcame their situation.”

Trudy Evans, a nine-year burn survivor, loves coming to the annual burn reunions.

“It is beautiful,” she said. “And I wouldn’t trade it for silver or gold.”

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