Peer Support is Powerful

Written by Rich Casias on May 13, 2022

Social Interactions
Self-Care / Self-Compassion
Trauma / PTSD
Personal Growth
Depression + Anxiety
Romantic Relationships

In June 1989, I was injured in an aircraft accident in southern Oregon and began treatment at the Oregon Burn Center ICU. 

After about two months in the burn center, one of my nurses commented that I was “smiling a lot more” and even becoming “more talkative.” Maybe it was a coincidence, Nurse Tom said, but I seemed to be in a generally better mood—why was that? Could it be related to “that pretty girl who stopped in to see you the other afternoon?” 

Tom was referring to a visit from Pam Maxon, who had come by to introduce herself at the request of my burn surgeon. I vaguely remember my surgeon saying something like, “I’m going to have one of my former patients come by to show you how good your legs can look.” 

One afternoon, not long after my surgeon’s announcement, a nurse stopped in my room and said I had a visitor. Following behind her was a confident young woman in a white sundress. 

Nurse Tom was absolutely right—meeting Pam and listening to her share the story of her burn injury and recovery process was motivating. Her ability to empathize with my challenges and to understand the frustrations of my seemingly slow recovery process made all the difference in my own outlook. Pam shared how discouraging it was for her to try and learn to walk again on legs that looked like “hamburger meat,” but she found the strength to keep moving forward, and so would I. 

Pam went on to become one of my best friends, and I never forgot how powerful her visit was for my recovery. 

After my years of physical and emotional recovery, I responded to my own desire to give back by volunteering at the UC Davis Med-Center Burn ICU. When the hospital adopted Phoenix Society’s SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) Program, I learned what it meant to be an effective peer supporter. 

Through Phoenix SOAR, I learned the skills necessary for in-person and online peer support. I have had the honor to participate in many peer support sessions with “newbie” burn survivors and sessions with many “long-time” survivors. 

In-person or online, one thing remains clear: peer support is a carefully managed two-way relationship."

Rich Casias

As survivors, we already understand burn injuries are physically, emotionally, socially, and economically traumatic events with the potential for long-lasting impact. From our peer supporter training, we understand a burn survivor’s recovery process requires “the highest level of care and support that can be provided through the collaborative efforts of dedicated medical staff, a local agency, and peer supporters, including the patient’s loved ones.” 

As a new or long-term burn survivor, receiving peer support can be motivating, affirming, even magical— just as it was for me many years ago when Pam visited my hospital room. Today, there are many opportunities to meet one-on-one or in group settings (both in-person or virtually) with a Phoenix SOAR Peer Supporter. 

It takes enormous courage to start your journey of recovery after a burn injury. We only ask that you give one of us the opportunity to inspire you and walk by your side. 

Rich Casias studied groundwater resources and earth science in college and continues to work as a California Professional Geologist based in the northern California region. As a Phoenix SOAR Peer Supporter and Peer Support Trainer, he is energized by assisting burn survivors to learn to rebuild their self-confidence and advocate for themselves and others in the burn community.