MetroHealth's Adult Burn Survivor Support Group Connects Patients Worldwide
For nearly 35 years, the Adult Burn Survivor Support Group had met weekly, without fail, in a conference room in MetroHealth’s Burn Center. But when the coronavirus pandemic led to a halt in all in-person volunteer meetings and activities in March 2020, that left the support group members without a place to convene.
The group quickly pivoted to virtual meetings on Zoom. Several months into the new experiment, meeting information was added on the website of the Phoenix Society, a national organization that advocates for burn survivors and their families and burn care professionals and researchers.
Today, the group has a reach far beyond those who previously traveled to main campus. Survivors as far away as California and England now join current and former MetroHealth patients to share their experiences and offer support to each other.
The group is led by Richard B. Fratianne, MD, a retired surgeon at MetroHealth who served as director of the Comprehensive Burn Care Center for more than 30 years until stepping down in 2002. Every Wednesday morning, and during the evening on the last Tuesday of each month, Dr. Fratianne facilitates the sessions.
Members overcame some initial technological challenges to resume a regular meeting schedule.
At a recent morning meeting, one member dropped in while being driven to a hospital in Nova Scotia, where she lives. She was heading to a consultation with a physician to discuss possible additional surgery. Another member updated the group about the travels of a St. Louis resident who has participated since 2021. Several of the people on the Zoom had met the woman, who attended the group’s summer picnic in Cleveland – their first in-person gathering since the start of the pandemic.
Being able to connect with others is essential for healing, no matter where a person is in their journey as a survivor, says Dr. Fratianne.
“It’s a marvelous tool in helping people find themselves after injury,” he says. “Once you let something like this lapse, you never get it back. So, we needed to continue.”
Marian Heffernan, a Burn Center volunteer, first suggested Zoom to Dr. Fratianne. Heffernan, who spent three weeks at the Burn Center as a patient in 2004, began volunteering and attending the support group meetings following her retirement in 2016.
The adult support group is unique in that it meets weekly, Heffernan said. Groups at other hospitals typically meet no more than twice a month.
“It’s just amazing what Zoom has done for our group,” says Heffernan of Cleveland. “It’s been a great avenue for reaching people.
“We’re like a family,” she adds. “We know what’s going on in people’s lives. We keep track of each other.”
Dino Marino suffered burns as a teenager in his native Italy. He has been part of the support group since 2008.
“I miss the personal contact,” says Marino, of Mayfield Village, “but the fact that we can talk to people almost worldwide, given the technology, that’s a benefit for me.”
Liberty Mosher of Chardon is one of the group’s newer members. She connected with Heffernan in the spring of 2020 at a virtual World Burn Congress meeting (held by Phoenix Society). Not long after, she attended her first support group meeting.
“I was excited to get to meet new people,” says Mosher, who was a 12th grade student at Newbury High School in Ohio when she suffered serious burns to more than 20% of her body from an out-of-control outdoor fire pit at a friend’s house in October 2019. Mosher spent 12 days in the Burn Center.
“I love the group, they’re amazing people,” says Mosher, a sophomore at Bowling Green State University studying nursing and health administration. She attends the monthly Tuesday evening meetings.
Mosher was one of the panelists at the Burn Center’s daylong virtual retreat on March 12, sharing her story of recovery.
“I’ve been really able to open up and share what I’ve been going through,” she says. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from them.”
For information on the support group go to https://www.metrohealth.org/burn-care-center/adult-burn-survivor-recovery-group.
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.