From Ashes to Advocacy: A Story of Transformation Between Tragedies

Written by Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors on January 13, 2024

Survivor Stories
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In an instant, hot embers transformed Abby from carefree child to burn survivor…and launched her mother, Janine Fisk, into the complex role of parent of a survivor.

As a mom, the trauma of the accident felt like a once-in-a-lifetime ordeal. Never did Janine imagine that the devastation of flames would revisit their lives in a profoundly different way, many years later.

Abby had only been 8 years old when she stumbled into a day-old fire on their family's California farm. The hot ash left third-degree burns on her feet, ankles, and calves, and second-degree injuries on her hands. Emergency treatment, a grueling month and a half in the hospital, and numerous skin grafts marked the outset of Abby's recovery. It also marked the beginning of Janine's lifelong journey as the parent of a survivor.

Parenting during adolescence is challenging by itself, but the physical and emotional toll of a burn injury added a layer of complexity for Janine. She grappled with the same anxieties that all parents face, but those common concerns were complicated by her daughter's scars. It was heart-wrenching to witness her daughter’s struggles as she grew.

The early years following Abby’s injury were very lonely. There were no other families nearby who could relate to their experience. No other young girls wearing compression socks, enduring surgery after surgery, or relearning to walk in third grade.

There was no support system in place to help Abby prepare to return to school. No guidance to aid Janine in helping her cope with the scars, fears, and uncertainty she would carry into the classroom.

Janine felt like she was fumbling in the dark. Though surrounded by friends, both she and Abby felt unseen. An invisible wall of misunderstanding separated them from everyone else. And Janine watched helplessly as her once fun, bubbly girl grew silent and withdrawn.

Finding Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors

For years, they plodded down this solitary path until a family friend discovered Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. And in 2014, mom and daughter packed up to attend their first Phoenix World Burn Congress (WBC).

It was a pivotal experience for Abby, and an emotional turning point for Janine.

From the moment they arrived, Janine watched as Abby began to rediscover herself. She saw her daughter’s spirit begin to bloom. And it wasn’t long before the young teen found her voice.

As mom and daughter heard stories of fellow survivors, they both drew hope, confidence, and life from each narrative. And a heart for advocacy began to beat inside both their chests.

Their lives were forever changed.

The connection they found through Phoenix WBC was like a new beginning for Abby and Janine. They realized that not only were they not alone, but they were an important part of a community that needed them as much as they needed it.

They became regular attenders at Phoenix WBC. Abby found her place in the youth support program and began telling her story at every opportunity. And they both grew as supporters, fans, and active members of the burn community over the years.

After Abby and her brothers were grown, Janine embarked on a new chapter in life. She moved to Hawaii and began working as an educational specialist for the Maui District Office of Education—a job that has her working with students and schools all around the island, including the Lahaina school district.

When she made that move, she had no way of knowing that decision had put her life on a path intersecting once more with the devastation of fire.

Hawaii Wildfires

Four years after she arrived, wildfires swept the Lahaina area. Schools closed, and some were destroyed. Students went missing. Families were displaced. And Janine found herself in the middle of crisis and chaos.

She was deeply affected for her community as she saw the early signs of trauma begin to emerge amongst her neighbors. Her heart was heavy, understanding many of the needs and struggles they were about to experience in the aftermath.

The psychological toll on both teachers and students in the area has been immense. And it’s been frustrating for Janine to watch the state and federal resources fall short in comprehending the trauma that survivors are facing…and the delay in reaching them with critical aid.

It’s hard to understand the impact of a burn or even just being in fire if you’ve never lived through it. These kids need survivors to come alongside and help them process what they’re going through. And they can’t wait for that kind of support.


But in her frustration, she has hope because she knows there is a network of survivors at Phoenix Society responding to the overwhelming need in all sectors.

Representatives and supporters are on the ground in nearby regions, collaborating with healthcare providers and others to reach survivors as quickly as possible. They are encouraging caregivers and loved ones to utilize Phoenix Society’s virtual support groups and online resources as they begin their healing journey. And the Phoenix SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) program at the Straub Burn Unit in Honolulu is activating to connect survivors and their support systems with trained volunteers who have experienced similar trauma.

In her role as educational specialist, Janine has been doing all she can to partner with Phoenix Society, gather resources, and organize aid for the affected students and teachers. And as she works, she awaits Abby’s arrival.

Now 23, Abby has been attending school and living in Colorado. But feeling called to help, she has decided to move to Hawaii to join the Phoenix SOAR program where she hopes to serve as a trusted guide for children who have been traumatized by the recent fires.

Looking back over the last fifteen years, Janine still wishes she and Abby had found Phoenix Society sooner. That wish drives their dedication to the burn community, as both women do their part to ensure that others can find support earlier in recovery.

Their journey from survivors to advocates exemplifies the transformative power of Phoenix Society and the importance of early connection and support for survivors and their families. Their story serves as a powerful reminder to each of us to do our part as peer supporters, volunteers, and donors—to reach survivors without delay.

Support Can't Wait

When a burn injury happens, care cannot wait…and neither can support.

Recovery begins at the moment of injury, and it lasts a lifetime. Every part of that journey should include support—physically, emotionally, and socially—for every survivor.

Please, give today to help a burn survivor connect with support before they even leave the hospital.