Everything Takes Time
An Interview with Rita Chen
In 2015, Rita was one of nearly 500 people injured in an explosion at Formosa Fun Coast Park in Taipei, Taiwan. The 21-year-old burn survivor attends North Carolina State University, where she studies applied math. Rita hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and engage with the burn community. In this interview, she shares her experience as a Taiwanese burn survivor living in the United States. Pictured above, Rita joins the Young Adult outing at Phoenix World Burn Congress.
How has your burn injury shaped the course of your life?
As an adult burn survivor, the hardest thing is not recognizing my body due to scars and differently shaped limbs. I’m still recovering and the journey is going to be long, but I’ve already seen myself changing in these last two years. Even though I’ve had bad days, I believe I can make this event worthwhile. Since my injury, I’ve learned that burns are very complex injuries. Every burn patient has different symptoms, scars, and struggles. Because of my injury, I believe I’m going to help other burn survivors.
Do people in Taiwan and people in the U.S. react differently to your burns?
Everyone in Taiwan knew the event when I got injured. If people see me wearing compression garments in public, they automatically assume I was injured in the water park explosion. Some even approach me and ask me questions. In the U.S., most people don’t ask what happened. I noticed that Americans don’t usually know what compression garments are. They think it’s just some kind of gloves or tights.
As a burn survivor and college student, what challenges have you faced?
I was injured after my freshman year. When I came back to school, many of my old friends had left and I struggled to make new ones. Sometimes I felt like people avoided me because of my limited physical ability. But I think being a burn survivor made me a better person. I better understand how people struggle after trauma, and I believe I can change the environment with a little effort.
You were sponsored by the Phoenix World Burn Congress George Pessotti Scholarship Fund to attend Phoenix WBC for the first time last fall. What was that like?
Last summer was my first “burn anniversary.” I’d made a lot of physical progress, but I was still struggling mentally and emotionally. My physical therapist back in Taiwan told me about Phoenix WBC. I wanted to see what I could do to help myself get better. It felt really good to meet so many people my age with similar experiences. It was so helpful to listen to others’ stories and learn how they overcame their own trauma.
Do you have advice for other survivors?
Don't beat yourself up for not being the same as you were before. It takes time to get used to our bodies. Developing new interests really helped me heal. I haven’t been able to play viola since my injury, but I discovered that I love composing music. It’s related, but it doesn't require motion of my limbs. I found it comforting and powerful to have a new interest. I also record my transformation by taking occasional pictures of my scars. By comparing them to earlier photos, I can see that it really does get better. Everything takes time, but it only gets better.