A Story of Survival and Determination
By: Paul Mueller

"A burn victim is someone who has been the victim of a serious, disfiguring, or disabling burn, but has not yet learned to understand and live with the consequences of that injury."

"A burn survivor is someone who has learned to adopt a positive self image about himself despite his injuries and who has decided to take charge of his life and live it to the best of his ability."


I am a Survivor

On Friday, June 8th at 2:43 p.m. I encountered a life-changing event that has forever altered my path in life. Here is my story, a story of survival and determination.

For the past ten years I have camped in Arizona on a monthly basis in all kinds of weather. If a designation of "professional camper" exists I feel qualified to be the chairman.


I am very safe at all times, but on June 8th I made a mistake, a mistake with severe consequences. I had arrived at my campsite near Globe, Arizona around 2pm. Friends would join me later that evening, but I wanted to get an early start on the weekend. I began setting up camp right away. I approached the fire pit, noted that it seemed "cold" and that it appeared to have been unused for a while. The late afternoon promised to lead into a cool evening, so I began to build a fire. I added wood and as I prepared to light it, I heard the whoosh of something igniting. In a flare of moments that seemed to last forever-but in reality lasted only fifteen to twenty seconds-a white-hot fire flashed up at me, burning twenty-five percent of my body with 3rd degree burns. When I looked down at the damage it had done, I realized I was in trouble. Big trouble.

My immediate reaction sent me jumping into the nearby stream. At some level I knew this might prevent me from going into shock, but on another level I was already in shock. However the decision to get in the stream was made, it was the right one. According to the Chief Surgeon at the Maricopa County Burn Center, the cool, ~50°F mountain stream stopped the burns from going deeper and spreading further. As the chilly water streamed over me, I said a prayer and told myself not to panic. I felt a reassuring presence and calmness envelop me, which allowed me to proceed with the task at hand.

I remained in the pool of water for around twenty minutes and then "walked" back up to the camper to tend to the injuries. I wrapped the wounds with wet paper towels and held them in place with strips of duct tape (yet another use for duct tape). I was losing a large amount of fluids at the wound sites and was alone in the middle of the Tonto National Forest. Needless to say, I had some decisions to make.


"I had the choice to sit it out or dance…I chose to dance!"

Some other campers, who had been gone since I arrived, returned from riding their quads. I made my way to their site and explained what had occurred and informed them that I would be leaving for the hospital. The rest of my camping group was not arriving for another 6 - 7 hours and at this point, time was crucial due to the threat of infection. I don't think even I knew just how critically injured I was.

I left the camp set up for my friends, jumped (actually, pulled myself up) into my truck and drove 140 miles (2.25 hours) to a hospital in Scottsdale where I was immediately admitted and treated. The burns were cleaned, creams and gauze applied and morphine shots given to me. Next, I was discharged and told to come back in two days to have the dressings examined. I thought this was odd to say the least.

The pain was intense, even with morphine and pain pills working to dull it. I looked at the clock and saw that it was six a.m.-my eyes had been open the entire time and I now realized that I had not slept all night. The next day I could not even attempt to change the dressings so I readmitted myself to the same hospital. Three hours later I was transported to the Arizona Burn Center at the Maricopa Medical Center Trauma Unit.

This would be my new home. I spent seventeen days at the Center for Burns and Trauma and by the third day some of the burns had already begun to heal and were only 2nd degree, though a good majority of the wounds were still 3rd degree. My days there were a living hell that I would never wish on another soul. Dressings were changed twice a day and in preparation for that, I sat in a shallow bathtub where I had to exfoliate the wounds. Pain management consisted of 10ml of morphine every two hours for fourteen out of the seventeen days spent in the unit.



The surgical team as well as the nursing staff were amazed by my resolve, but God gave me the strength to get through it. One of my many vivid memories is of being woken up at all hours of the night and hearing the children that were there crying. It broke my heart to know their pain. Only the reassurance that we were all in the best burn care facility in this region, if not the nation made it bearable.

According to the Chief Surgeon as well as several of my attending nurses, my recovery is nothing short of a modern day miracle. My wounds have healed phenomenally and I did not require any surgery or skin grafts-and God-willing I will have little or no scarring. It was touch and go for a long time but I was given the strength to do what I had to do. When the Chief Surgeon told me that I was scheduled for surgery, I considered that to be a challenge and I was determined to prove him wrong. He kept shaking his head, amazed, and postponing the surgery. He could not believe the results that he saw, but neither could he deny them. He and several others said that I cheated everything; burn recovery usually does not turn out this way. All that I can say is that this IS a miracle.

As I lay in my hospital bed I often thought of what good could come out of this? How could I impact others? What could I learn? It appears that I will be getting quite involved with the Foundation For Burns and Trauma as a spokesman and board member. I will also be involved with training and awareness activities. The Executive Director of the center asked me if I would be willing to help her and of course I said yes.

I have known people at The Foundation for Burns and Trauma for 10 years now due to my involvement with children's charity groups, so this was a logical choice. I will also be taking the show on the road and speaking to valley emergency room nurses and other personnel in order to train them in burn recognition as well as what a burn survivor goes through.

I was handed lemons…and I am making a lot of lemonade. It takes more than this to keep me down…

Seize the day, notice the moment.