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.
The MetroHealth System is redefining health care by going beyond medical treatment to improve the foundations of community health and well-being: affordable housing, a cleaner environment, economic opportunity and access to fresh food, convenient transportation, legal help and other services. The system strives to become as good at preventing disease as it is at treating it.
The system’s more than 600 doctors, 1,700 nurses and 7,800 employees go to work each day with a mission of service, to their patients and to the community. As Cuyahoga County’s safety-net health system, MetroHealth plays an essential role in the region, caring for anyone and everyone, regardless of an ability to pay.
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth operates four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers throughout Cuyahoga County. The system serves more than 300,000 patients, three-quarters of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
MetroHealth is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and Ohio’s only adult and pediatric trauma and burn center.
As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to research and to teaching and training tomorrow’s caregivers. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Its main campus hospital houses the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Lincoln-West School of Science & Health, the only high school in America located inside a hospital.
Knowing that good health is about much more than good medical care, MetroHealth has launched the Institute for H.O.P.E.™ (Health, Opportunity, Partnership, Empowerment), which uses a coordinated, collaborative and strategic approach to help patients with non-medical needs such as healthy food, stable housing and job training.
The MetroHealth Glick Center, a new 11-floor hospital, is under construction on the system’s main campus in Cleveland and is scheduled to welcome its first patients in October 2022. The billion-dollar project is the cornerstone of a wider neighborhood revitalization effort led by the system and its partners in the community.
For more information, visit metrohealth.org.