Youngest burn survivors help prove that massage heals
The non-clinical results also wowed Smith and her colleagues. "There was
one little girl who had been burned in a house fire-they were using candles in the home because they didn't have
electricity-and this little girl tried to save several siblings," says Smith. In doing so, she received burns over 85 percent of her body, including her face and hands.
"She didn't want to be touched," says Smith. "She was very guarded about anyone getting into her personal space." However, by the end of the week, Smith says, the young girl was complaining because she had to get off the massage table.
The tangible results were two-to-three degree change in range of motion each day. The intangibles were great, too. "What a wonderful turnaround! It seemed to make a difference not just in the scars, but in her heart healing, and in her body image and perception of herself."
For Garrison, who had been the same age as many of the children at camp when she had been burned over 65 percent
of her body at age 11, going to camp was a revelation. "I went to massage school to specifically help other burn survivors," she says, but didn't know where to find them. "Once burn survivors are through with critical [care], they just kind of disappear," she says. "I thought, 'This is my tribe.' I've been looking for this my whole life," she says.
Garrison was thrilled with the results. "You kind of feel that you are your deformities, your scars," she says. "And when somebody touches you lovingly where you have horrible scars that others are repelled by, it goes beyond anything that you may be doing physically to the skin…that's what these kids were saying."
While Smith and Morien saw success as well, they're ready to up the ante. "I'm excited with the results," Morien says, "But I'm also a scientist and, therefore, cautious. I'd like a greater
sample size for a more robust effect." They hope to return next year, with more massage therapists, if possible, working on more children.
Smith wants more massage therapists on board in general. "We do not have enough trained therapists right now to handle the burn population," she says. She says that therapists will likely find the work tremendously satisfying.
"For me, as a therapist, to be able to work with burn survivors, or anyone with traumatic scarring, to acknowledge where they are in the process and introduce appropriate touch-well, I can't explain the feeling I have after a session-I'm just so full ," Smith says. "They realize that it's OK-that they're OK-and
they start to accept themselves more."
Garrison says that, as the kids at Camp Amigo proved, touch can be so much more than skin deep. "I've found that the psychological side is as important as the physical. You start to accept that your body may look different, but you're still lovable and worthy of touch, and that it doesn't have to hurt. For me, it's very transcendental. I heal as much as they heal."
Clare La Plante is a freelance writer based in Evanston, Illinois. She is a regular contributor to mtj and her work has also appeared in a number of national business publications. Clare is also the author of Wall Street on a Shoestring. (Avon Books, 1998).