Fitting in can be hard for any teenager.
Visible scars from a burn injury make it that much more difficult.
After a week at a burn camp with 40 other young burn victims, though, an Amana teen is more resolved than ever to not let her physical scars stand in her way.
“If I have the best attitude, I’ll get farther in life,” said Alivea Carnahan, 15, who was burned extensively on her torso when she was 11. “It brings out the best in people when they see me all bubbly and confident, they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, I can be that way too.’ If I’m bummed all the time, or, ‘Oh, why did this happen to me?,’ then I’m not going to get anywhere.”
The International Association of Fire Fighter’s International Burn Camp brought 13- and 15-year-old burn survivors such as Carnahan from across the United States and Canada to Washington, D.C., for a weeklong exploration of the nation’s capital and a chance to meet others who have experienced burn injuries.
Before the camp, it was “still one of those things that it’s a little self-conscious,” Carnahan said. “Now I really don’t mind. They really showed me it’s not a big deal and how to handle things.”
Carnahan suffered second- and third-degree burns four years ago when her shirt caught fire as she tried to start a fire by herself to make s’mores for her family. Skin from her chest to her belly button and along her back and arms burned, and she was sent to the University of Iowa for a skin graft.
She’s undergone subsequent reconstructive surgery and regular steroid injections to scars and grafts.
“Things like burn camp or peer support groups or young adult support just brings them together where they can meet other survivors or people like them, so they can talk about what they’ve gone through,” said Bridget Werling, a nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Burn Treatment Center, who was Carnahan’s nurse after her incident and joined her at the camp. “It’s important for them, no matter where they are in their recovery, to be able to just (share their story), whether it’s their 10 cent or $10 version, because it’s part of them.”
As co-director of the Miracle Burn Camp in Spirit Lake for the past 11 years, Werling has seen Carnahan help other burn victims.
“She’s a true leader,” Werling said. “She really stands out.”
The UI Hospitals and Clinics Burn Treatment Center is the only burn unit in Iowa and annually treats 450 burn patients, a third of whom are younger than 18 years old. Its burn clinic has 2,800 visits annually.
Scalding is the most common burn injury for children under 8 years old.