A Burn Survivor Helps Others

By: Rudy Pelman

I am a 52-year-old Belgian citizen and I have lived in Wales, Great Britain since 1982. I am married to Clarine and have a daughter of 17, named Lindsey and one named Jessy, who is 30. I was a manual worker; working all over Europe and the Middle East in the oil industry for many years. Life was treating us very kindly so; yet again I signed another contract in February 1992, this one to be carried out in Scotland. To cut a long story short, a fire broke out and I ended up in hospital having sustained 50% burns. I was in hospital for more than three months before being allowed home and then my rehabilitation began.


Although my recovery was teamwork between my Plastic Surgeons and all medical staff involved, it was the excellent after care given to me by Clarine, Lindsey and Doctor W. George my General Practitioner (GP) that brought me back to a normal life again. But, let's not jump ahead and carry on with the story.

Some four months after my discharge from hospital and during yet another 'talking' session with my GP, he suggested that I do something with my life. Although Clarine and my GP knew that I wouldn't be able to use my hands for manual work again for a long time (I didn't realize that at the time), he suggested going on a computer course…I honestly thought that he was having me on! Taking into consideration that I'm Belgian (although I spoke English, I couldn't write much as my main tongue is Flemish/Dutch) and would need more skin grafts and surgery for many years to come, one can imagine why I thought he was having me on.


Anyway, although I could hardly walk at that time because of the burns on my legs, had never seen a computer before in my life and had a technical school education in my youth, at the age of 42, I enrolled on a one-year computer course (RSA 1, evening classes). To my great surprise I completed the course and received my certificate. At that point, my GP suggested that I continue with further education and I enrolled in our local College on a two year, full time computer course (BTEC National Diploma). Again to my surprise, I also finished that course and was given the 'Computing Student of the Year' award. This achievement gave me the encouragement and also the right grades to enroll on a 2-year Higher Education course (HND) in Business Information Technology, from which I graduated in June 1997. I then went on to take a B.Sc. Honors Degree in Information Systems and Technologies graduating in June 1999.

It certainly hasn't been easy over the years…but then again, nobody told me it would be! I know that I could not have achieved all this without the help of Clarine, Lindsey and my GP. Also other people around me i.e. my fellow students (most of them were only 17-18 years of age in the BTEC National Diploma course) and my lecturers, contributed to my recovery. Maybe unknown to them, I took some strength out of the fact that they didn't treat me any different from other students, that they didn't gave me any privileges because of my condition. I just had to get on with it like everyone else and I succeeded. I didn't have time to think about my accident, as I kept busy instead…. a recommendation to anyone in a similar position as me!

While I was very fortunate to have had the 'right' people around me, I must admit that not everyone is in the same situation. Not everyone has the support and care that I had and still have from those people around me. Clarine, more than anyone else, knows that not everyday day was a 'cheerful' day for me, as the mental and physical scarring will always be with me. Although I tried to keep my head up high most of the time, I also had some off-days, but again the people around me were there to help.

It is for those people who don't have the support that I had for whom I've set up my Burn Support Group Database on the World Wide Web (http://www.burnsupportgroupsdatabase.com) where people looking for help will be able to find groups and organizations offering the local, national and international support they need. Places where they will be able to get information from and to talk to qualified people and to make contact with others who have been through a similar experience. My own experience has shown me that there are many, many people out there who really care about other people and are willing and able to help in all kinds of practical ways. REGISTRATION ON MY DATABASE IS ABSOLUTELY FREE and I would ask that as many groups as possible register, the more groups that are registered, the more people will be able to find help.

At present (29 March 2002) some 18500 plus visitors were clocked on my website. Taken that my small database only began life at 1st April 1997, I believe this venture to be a success. One may argue that not every visitor to my website would be a burn survivor, and that may be true, but if only half of those visitors were burn survivors and if only 20% of those were helped, then for me this venture would be more than worth every effort I've put in and still put into it.

My Burn Support Group Database is now almost becoming a full time job, as I receive e- mail, snail mail and messages from all over the world… I do reply to all of them (rudy@burnsupportgroupsdatabase.com)!! They come from as far apart as from Peru to Bosnia, so I know that my database does what it was designed for. My web site can be viewed in any of the 8 main International languages so people from all over the world are able to access and understand the database in either their own or a second language, however, I am in need of translations into the Scandinavian and Middle- and Far-Eastern languages and would be most grateful for any assistance in this area.


I do get a tremendous boost out of those messages that are sent to me. Mostly those messages are of praise but I also receive some from burn survivors who are desperately in need of help. Usually I am able to help sort things out as I do have a lot of connections all over the world through my database and my involvement with national and international organizations. However, sometimes I can't help, especially where someone lives in an area that has little or no provision for support and it makes me feel both sad and useless, but it also makes me realize how lucky burn survivors are in countries like the UK, the USA, Europe and Canada.

I presently give speeches to burn survivors and I support groups on how I rehabilitated myself. I am currently also the Treasurer of the St Lawrence Hospital Burns Unit Fund located at Morriston Hospital, Swansea and one of the trustees of the newly founded Burn Survivors Association -UK. I am also a part time Lecturer at Pembrokeshire College, Wales, UK and my wife and I have a property letting business.

I feel that there is a need to educate people around the world about burns, especially younger generations, on burn prevention and on how burn survivors struggle with rehabilitation to get their place back in society. To give an example: Holland has a system in place being carried out in conjunction with the burns unit staff, the fire brigade and professional film makers in which a burned child is filmed during their stay at the burns unit. Before the burned child is discharged, this video is edited and shown to their classmates and school, showing them what burns can do to them and giving an opportunity to explain about burns and burn prevention at a time when they are likely to be more receptive. At the same time the video goes a long way towards preparing the school for the burned child's return, mitigating the shock, embarrassment and the staring which is very much present in our world based on "good looks", and making it a little bit easier for the burned child to take their place back in their community and school.

Lastly, I have many burn survivor friends around the world, friends like Dwight Lunkley from California, Anthony Gonzales from Illinois, and Michael Appleman, also from the USA, and who is the Founder and Executive Director/CEO of Burn Survivors Throughout The World, Inc.(BSTTW). These guys are my heroes and we share Dwight Lunkley's motto…


NEVER QUIT… life is too precious!

BURN SURVIVORS HELPING BURN SURVIVORS…this is what it is all about!