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When George Pessotti suffered third degree burns over 90 percent of his body after a gas explosion in 1979, the emotional support he received from a fellow burn survivor was just as crucial to his well being as the physical care he received at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.
This fall, in addition to the high quality care burn patients already receive at BWH, they also will have access to the kind of emotional support Pessotti found so helpful, thanks to the Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery (SOAR) program. SOAR is a hospital-based program designed by the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors to match burn patients with someone who has gone through a similar experience. Elaine Boyle, LICSW, burn trauma social worker, and Lucy Maree, RN, burn trauma coordinator, who both completed SOAR training last spring, will recruit former BWH burn patient volunteers to provide peer support to burn patients in the hospital and their families.
“Being burned is horrific,” said Pessotti, who last week visited BWH’s Kessler Health Education Library to introduce his book, “Reason For Living,” which describes his ordeal and subsequent work counseling other burn patients. “It robs us physically, gives us a lot of pain and then an emotional roller coaster for much of our lives.”
To help patients cope with the emotional issues of burn injuries, the volunteers will talk with patients and families about their own experiences and answer questions patients have. Boyle and Maree will screen and train the volunteers and match them with patients and families enduring a similar experience. For example, a patient whose burn required amputation would be best matched with a volunteer who had gone through something similar, rather than someone who had a less severe injury and required no surgery.
“It’s completely voluntary for patients and families whether they talk to a burn survivor, but it’s very effective,” Boyle said.
Pessotti felt the same in the aftermath of his burn, which was the result of an explosion in his Westford home. During the 70 days he spent in intensive care, he was visited by Alan Breslau, a burn survivor who founded the Phoenix Society. Breslau made Pessotti realize he could overcome the injuries and live a full life. That visit was so effective that Pessotti has dedicated much of his time since to visiting burn patients in Boston hospitals, including BWH, to share his story and offer encouragement. He also leads monthly support groups for patients in Boston hospitals.
“What I bring them is hope,” said Pessotti, whose success inspires patients filled with fear that society will reject them. “It’s not the end of the line, no matter how bad the injury is.”