Camp I Am Me sent two survivors and one caregiver to the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors World Burn Congress which took place at National Harbor in Maryland, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. from October 4-8.
After arriving on Wednesday and picking up registration materials which included a bag of swag, first-timers to the conference met up for a special session on what to expect in the days ahead. Everyone was introduced to the Emotional Support Staff. Loyola Medicine Burn Outreach Coordinator and Camp I Am Me Board member Kelly McElligott was part of this awesome team.
In the evening, all attendees gathered in the spectacular glassed atrium for a welcome reception. Over 700 people were present and yet the feeling was warm and welcoming. First Timers wearing a special color ribbon on their name tags, were immediately made to feel comfortable, and great conversation and stories continued for hours.
Before opening remarks bagpipes and a color guard got things started. Aaron Volpatti was the keynote speaker. Aaron is a burn survivor, retired NHL hockey player, and published author. Aaron shared his own story of being burned and the journey that followed. He focused on the power of visualization and the resilience of the human mind and spirit. Everyone left feeling more self-aware of their dreams and inspired to make them happen.
The first Open Mic session followed. These sessions allow survivors to retell their story to those around them. Many have never had this opportunity. There were many powerful moments, and the Emotional Support Team was kept busy moving around the room with microphones to assist those who wanted to share. Tissues were also on hand at each table for those who needed them.
Later in the day, break-out sessions were in full swing with a wide variety of topics. Some of our attendees participated in the Healing Power of Laughter and learned how laughter, scientifically, is good for us as a healing modality. What is amazing is through the courage of those who chose to tell a joke, those in the room felt their spirit grow lighter.
On Friday, Camp I Am Me attendees gathered for early morning coffee before heading to the main ballroom for a panel discussion on loss and gain. This discussion with burn survivors allowed others to feel comforted by the fact that while isn’t impossible to heal after a burn injury, it does take a willingness and effort and the journey will be what you determine it to be. Everyone was reminded that their journey is unique to them. It need not look like anyone else’s to be valid.
Another Open Mic session followed and after that attendees strolled through the exhibit hall to gather information from the organizations and companies that support the Phoenix Society.
More learning sessions in the afternoon. Camp I Am Me attendees took in the Coping Using Art and Mindfulness session which had them doing breathing exercises, while expressing themselves through coloring postcards that featured a word that resonated with the individual. After time for the art, they were asked why they chose that specific word. Another reflective moment in a conference filled with them.
Dinner was spent meandering along the Potomac and taking in the shops and sights at National Harbor. For the bravest, a ride on the Capital Wheel – the large Ferris wheel sitting on a pier that extends into the river provided some epic night viewing of all the lights from DC and National Harbor. And then everyone returned to the hotel for the Dance Party. New friends and old acquaintances spent several hours moving to the music on the large dance floor.
Saturday, everyone gathered for a light breakfast while burn survivor, Army veteran, TV personality and Dancing with the Stars season 13 winner, J.R. Martinez spoke about his own process of healing and where he is now. Then, everyone was encouraged to walk together through the conference center, and past rows of firefighters and fire service personnel who applauded everyone along the way, in a Walk of Solidarity. A fireboat was spotted on the Potomac using its water cannons to create a beautiful arch attendees could see. Everyone stopped just outside, but away from the rain, where a gathering of fire apparatus from the surrounding area was parked, and more fire personnel were clapping and cheering. Photos were taken and the last remarks made. Hugs were given, phone numbers exchanged with promises to keep in touch. And just like that WBC 2023 officially ended.