Who I Am and What I Have to Say 9 March 2001

By: James January

Let me introduce myself...I am the burnt guy...That pretty much sums me up. When having a business lunch with a client I have not met, I'll tell her to "look for the burnt guy". Most of my friends call me that. My Harley buddies call me "toast". In a plane it's "firegod", and sometimes "firefly" when I skydive. Before being burned everyone called me January (last name).


My name is James January and I will accept and even encourage being called any of the above by my friends and sometimes my enemies. (To those wondering...I was born in August, burned in September...but I did leave the hospital in January.)

Why would I allow anyone to refer to me as such? Because it sums me up. While being burned is not all there is to a burn survivor's life, it is a major part. And I am an in your face kind of guy. All of us are unique and handle things differently. Not everyone is an in your face kind of person. I am.

I really don't care whether people around me are comfortable or not (sometimes I purposely try to make others uncomfortable, just to see what works and what doesn't). This approach suits my psyche; but I know it might not work for another. That is why you must be vigilant and learn from others who have been down a similar road. To find out what works best for you and what does not.

I have a philosophy: There is never only one way to handle a situation...in this case, being burned. I also believe that in order to best deal with burns you must observe what works and what does not. And what works for one person may not work for another.

So what's my story? Here's part of the ongoing saga… I was burned September '91. I was Branched but not Commissioned, Regular Army, Military Intelligence…a fancy way of saying "I got burned my senior year of college". At age 21, everything I worked for went up in smoke. I was driving a University owned vehicle from Campbell University to Ft. Bragg, NC. To make a long story short: vehicle turned over and caught fire. I remember reaching through flames to undo my seatbelt while the truck was skidding on its side. I did not get out as fast as I would have liked. I ended up with @85% burns to my body, most of it full thickness. I refer to my recovery as 4 months physical (got out of the hospital in four months, but still had those daily clinics and day ops) and about a year and a half mental (my friends say I was never fully there, but at least I got back to base-line). After a period of struggle, due to both my injuries and a search for something that would challenge me, I became involved with the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center. Since '93, I have immersed myself in anything that deals with burn survivors, family and friends, and anyone who works with burn survivors, and the prevention of burn injury.

And now? I make and lose money through business investments (sink or swim on the backs of talented and hardworking people: That more or less makes me a silent partner or a venture capitalist)…But I spend most of my time working with burns. I especially love working with young survivors. Started The January Foundation/burnsurvivor.org: a burn foundation that does everything from lecturing to school re-entries. Most of our work is in or around North Carolina, but we have been as far as Australia. And we are growing.

I also ride a Harley, scuba and skydive, and will be a pilot soon. (All of these activities are necessary stress relievers that keep me going and keep me from punching stupid people.) And when you tell a 1st grader that you jump out of planes and swim with sharks, their attention span goes from 5 seconds to 15 minutes so you can tell them not to play with matches and not to pick on "Johnnie".


You must gain from the experience of others to form you own arsenal as to how you approach and deal with being a burn survivor. I think that the quickest way to motivate an individual facing life as a burn survivor is to tell them about someone else who has been down a similar road. Had similar experiences. And how they dealt with it or are dealing with it. As a burn survivor, take what works for you and get rid of what does not. Bits and pieces from the experiences of others who have been there and those who are currently there can be what works for you.

I still have those days when I look in the mirror and think s#*t or f$&k, but my friend, everyone has those days. The trick is moving on. There are those times when I would like to blame everything on being burned, but can't.


You have to play in a game where our society puts forth certain thoughts, good or bad, on what is normal and what isn't, what looks good and what doesn't. But that doesn't mean you can't bend the rules, or break them when necessary, to play that game.

Do not set yourself up for failure by expecting too much out of others; at the same time, however, do not tolerate disrespect. If you walk into a room you might get those double takes, it's natural for people to be curious, but if it goes beyond that deal with it. If you walk from place to place with your head up, chest out, looking people in the eye, and saying hello...you will get a much more positive reaction than walking with your head down and shoulders slouched forward. If people ask you questions and you don't feel like talking about it, tell them you don't feel like talking about it. But remember that education is a great tool for those who don't know.

And if someone tells you that you are ugly, tell them "Some of us were born that way...some of us had to get burned".