David Schury: Discovering the Reason Why

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By Christine Jurus

David Schury began his career with ComEd as a meter reader 33 years ago. Five years later he became an area operator for the Illinois power company, performing inspections of ComEd equipment and manual electrical switching in their substations. It was while doing that job on April 13, 2000, that Dave’s life would change forever.Dave and Michele Schury at the national Jefferson Awards ceremony held in Washington, DC, in June.

A rat had short-circuited a 12,000-volt piece of equipment, explains Dave, causing an explosion. Dave suffered second- and third-degree burns to 30 percent of his body and spent the next 2 weeks fighting for his life in the burn unit at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital.

“I am fortunate to say my family and I recovered from that terrible day,” says Dave. His wife of 19 years, Michele, and his daughters, Chrisele, now 24, and Brittany, now 18, were then, and continue to be, a great support for him. They are the ones who helped inspire him to get back on his feet, he says.

Despite his positive attitude following his accident, Dave couldn’t help but wonder “Why me?” As he put his thoughts and energy into finding out the reason it had happened, one thing Dave knew for sure—he wanted to help others.

Returning to Work

Just 4 months after leaving the hospital, Dave returned to work and soon was able to put his experience to use by sharing his story in a company training video. In “Just Another Day,” Dave speaks on the importance of safety in the workplace. At training programs for other area operators, Dave stresses the need to practice safety on the job, not only for one’s self, but for one’s co-workers as well. When Dave shares his story with other employees, he urges them to develop respect for the job and realize “this could happen to them.”

Although Dave says he found these speaking opportunities to be rewarding, they still didn’t provide him with the answer to hisquestion, “Why me? ”

An Introduction to Support

“Then one day,” recalls Dave, “I heard about a camp for children who have been burned, called Camp I Am Me.” The following summer Dave volunteered as a counselor. The weeklong camp, sponsored by the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance, serves young burn survivors ages 8-16. While Dave initially found it very emotional to see young people with such severe burns and scars, he now spends one full week of his personal vacation time each summer helping the kids “reconnect with life in a healing environment.”

But it was a special moment during that first summer that Dave recalls fondly. One day, he was approached by a young camper who questioned why the counselor was covering up his scars with a longsleeved shirt. “We’re all the same here at camp,” Dave remembers the boy saying, “you don’t need to hide your burns.”

“So here I was helping those young children deal with their new bodies,” he explains, “and in turn they were helping me.” On that day, Dave says, he discovered his reason why. “I needed to help other burn survivors no matter what age.”

That was the start of Dave’s nearly decade-long commitment to the program. 

Learning to SOAR

It was also at camp that Dave met Barry Bennett, the social worker for Loyola Hospitals Burn Center. In 2001, Barry told Dave about the Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery, or SOAR, program that was being implemented at the hospital. The Phoenix Society-developed program for peer support connects burn survivors at least a year out from their injury with patients currently in the burn center. Family members and other caregivers can participate in SOAR as well.

Dave and Michele were very excited to learn about the program. Dave knew how much he would have liked the opportunity to talk with other burn survivors soon after his injury. By volunteering with SOAR he could provide others survivors with the valuable peer support that he had missed. After going though the application process at Loyola, Dave and Michele were able to attend an 8-hour training session held in conjunction with the 2002 World Burn Congress (WBC) where they were provided with the tools they needed to help other burn survivors and their families. In the 3 days that followed the training, they had the “extraordinary opportunity” to experience WBC and to meet other burn survivors from all over the world.

Since then, Dave and Michele have been active SOAR peer supporters and have spent much of their time helping others who have been affected by a burn injury. Dave usually meets with burn survivors and Michele will typically meet with family members and spouses. They are both able to offer the support and understanding to families who are new to the burn community. The two also participate in the burn unit’s Links of Hope support group, making sure they are able to attend the meetings held every other month.

In 2007, Dave and Michele had the opportunity to share their story in yet another way by participating in a panel at the World Burn Congress in Vancouver. They were asked to speak to the more than 600 people there about their family’s journey in a session that focused on marriage, communication, and intimacy after burn injuries. Dave says it was a great honor to be able to share their experience with other survivors and that they both felt “very rewarded” when they learned that other couples, as well as other electrical burn survivors, wanted to meet and speak with them afterward. Dave and his wife had found yet another way to give back.

Recognized for Making a Difference

Dave’s dedication as a volunteer in the burn community for the past 9 years has not gone unrecognized. In June, he and Michele traveled to Washington, DC, where he was one of the 66 local Jefferson Award recipients who were honored at a national ceremony. The awards recognize “unsung heroes” who are making a difference in their community on the behalf of others. Dave was nominated by Margaret Amato, the manager of corporate citizenship for Exelon, Com Ed’s parent company, for his volunteerism with the burn center.

Finding the Answer

When Dave first started offering support to others, he says he wondered if he was really making a difference in the patient’s recovery. But now, says Dave, when he sees a smile on their face, despite their pain, or receives a hug, it warms his heart and he knows he has.

“The joy I receive when a burn victim realizes they really are not victims, they are survivors, is overwhelming,” explains Dave.

He has found his reason why. 


This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support News, Fall Issue 2009. Burn Support News is a quarterly publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery.  All Rights Reserved.
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