Written on December 07, 2020
In 1960, nine-year-old Bill Alexander was burned on over 50% of his body. He endured more than 50 surgeries over the next ten years.
“For me, the mental recovery was worse than the physical pain,” Bill says. “Back then, no PT/OT or mental help was available—or even thought of.”
Bill grew up ashamed of his scars, hiding them under long sleeves even in Louisiana’s hot and humid weather. Decades later, he continued to deny the ways PTSD impacted his life.
Then, more than 50 years after his burn injury, something changed.
The company where Bill worked had its usual mandatory monthly safety meeting. There, the speaker played a video from Mitch Dryer, a burn survivor, firefighter, and Phoenix Advocate.
“Mitch spoke to me that day,” says Bill. “He said the savior for him was Phoenix SOAR peer support and attending Phoenix World Burn Congress.”
Inspired by Mitch’s words, Bill started reading and researching about burn survivors and burn recovery.
“I decided not to wear hot long sleeve shirts anymore because I was only hurting myself.”
In 2017, he built up the courage to have two corrective scar release surgeries. Though his age and his Type 2 diabetes meant a long recovery, it was worth it. After the surgeries, Bill went from 68% to 100% lung capacity and from limited to full shoulder movement.
“It was amazing to have an OT helping me in the recovery,” says Bill. “It was wonderful to experience.”
In 2019, Bill took another step forward on his journey of emotional recovery when he attended the pilot of Phoenix Society’s Virtual Support Group.
“Reading books and magazines about burn survivors is very educational,” says Bill, “but having a live feed to see and hear other survivors is irreplaceable.”
Over the past 59 years, Bill had only seen a few other burn survivors. When Phoenix Society began offering a weekly Virtual Support Group earlier this year, Bill attended every chance he got.
“This has really allowed me to advance mentally and recognize the PTSD triggers I had hidden all these years,” says Bill. “I have finally gained a better understanding of how to mentally cope with the internal struggle I’ve had since 1960.”
And most importantly, he has connected with other burn survivors facing the same struggles.
“Almost 60 years after my burn accident, I found this caring supportive system of education and communication,” says Bill. “It has really opened up my eyes and let me be free again. I’m just sorry this was not available to me at the time of my injury. But hopefully now folks going through burn treatment will accept the help and move forward at their own individual pace.”
Bill Alexander is living proof that it’s never too late for transformational healing. And he continues that cycle of healing by helping to serve others in the community. Together, we can ensure that burn survivors like Bill, who are recovering alone, know that they have the power to reach out, find support, and thrive after a burn injury.