Advocacy Award Recipient 2018: Pam Elliott
By Peg Paul
This award recognizes an individual whose advocacy efforts have brought greater awareness to the burn community by actively providing information, education and promoting positive change.
A burn survivor and registered nurse, Pam Elliott has spent countless hours advocating for burn survivors. At 5 years old, Pam received third-degree burns over 50% of her body in a house fire. Despite the challenges from the injuries, Pam had a positive childhood. her mother instilled in her that she could do anything other little girls could do.
In her small West Virginia hometown, everyone knew her story and other children didn’t make fun of her appearance. Her experience changed when she went to college, where she planned to become a physician’s assistant. Medical personnel told Elliott that because of her appearance, patients would have a deeper fear of doctors.
“That’s when I became acutely aware of my appearance,” said Elliott. “I became a bitter, angry woman.”
When Elliott took a class on the Old Testament, her world turned back around. One story resonated deeply: Jeremiah went to a potter’s house, and he worked at his wheel. The vessel he made of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand—but then he reworked it into another vessel.
“That's when I realized that what happened to me, happened for a purpose,” said Elliott. “It changed my heart.”
Today, Elliott is a registered nurse who speaks publically about her experience, participates in media outreach, and volunteers to help survivors at local burn units. She lobbied U.S. Congress to pass the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, as well as spoke to the North Carolina building code committee and various city councils in support of home fire sprinklers, Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters and other fire safety topics.
In her 40s, Elliott connected with other survivors and volunteered in her local hospital’s burn unit. She attended her first Phoenix World Burn Congress in 2008. When Amy Acton, Phoenix Society Executive Director, encouraged Elliott to tell her story, she was trained as a Phoenix Advocate and fine-tuned her presentation skills.
"If you don’t deal with your trauma, your trauma will deal with you,” said Elliott. “I encourage people to talk about it now. Others will see it in you, like Amy saw it in me. Suddenly you realize its not about you, its about others. Just hearing other people’s stories puts your own story in perspective.”
Eight years ago, Elliott received a letter from a parent after talking to middle school children. After her daughter shared Elliott’s story with her siblings, the mother wrote: “Your personal statement, 'Purpose through Tragedy,' has been passed around the kitchen table already, and we are all very moved by your determination. The odds that you made a life-lasting impression on at least one 13-year-old girl today? Not slim to none. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.”
We received nominations for seven outstanding advocates for the 2018 Advocacy Award. Here are a few highlights:
Lori Janik, Director of Client Care Service, Arizona Burn Foundation
Nominated for her tireless efforts to introduce burn care information in every hospital and skilled nursing facility and mainstreaming patients into programs where burn patients are not typically seen. Lori brings awareness to the community about the critcal needs of burn survivor aftercare.
Sam Matagi: Survivor/Snowboard Cross Paralympic Team
Sam is an active member of the burn survivor community, Phoenix SOAR volunteer, and member of the Snowboard Cross Paralympic Team and the National Ability Center. Sam is a bilateral arm amputee and represents the survivor community in a way that brings dignity and humor to very difficult situations.
Jen Hartley and Chris Hallwas: Survivors/Licensed Massage Therapists
Handle with Care Burn Scar Massage is run by Jen and Chris, burn survivors and licensed massage therapists (LMT). They travel throughout the country teaching other massage therapists about proper knowledge and touch when working with burn survivors. They provided massage therapy at Phoenix World Burn Congress 2017; their team worked on 486 burn survivors.
Rebekah Allely: Nurse, Medstar Washington (DC) Hospital Center
Rebekah brings cohesion to the burn survivor community in Washington, DC. She introduces every burn patient treated at the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit to the burn survivor community and ensures they know about the support groups and other mechanisms available. She is the main liason to the DC Firefighters Foundation. Rebekah organizes summer and winter visits for burn survivors to the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Colorado. Rebekah goes above and beyond her job duties to be there for her life long patients.
Natalia Ponce de Leon: Survivor
Natalia spearheaded a national campaign in Columbia to bring awareness for acid attacks: “Take off the mask.” The media picked it up and stronger laws were enacted to bring perpetrators to justice. The use of the burn mask and the campaign was creative and brought wide understanding of the issue.
Jake LaFerriere: Survivor, Firefighter
Jake’s foundation, Firefighters for Healing, provides support, resources and services to burn survivors and their families to equip them with a holistic approach to healing physically emotionally, and financially. The foundation provides financial and medical resources to burn survivors and their families in ways insurance companies are unable to. Last year, Jake dream to start a burn camp for kids became a reality with Camp RED (Realize Every Dream).