AUGUSTA, GA– The Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation provides assistance to families of burn patients who are being treated at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta. The Burn Foundation also helps patients as they learn to live independently again.
People like Connor McKemey, from Tega Cay, South Carolina. He spent four months in the burn center after being burned over 90% of his body.
Mom Karin will never forget the night of December 21st, 2008… when she looked outside her den window and saw the outdoor fireplace explode, engulfing her 13-year-old son in flames.
Connor says it started with him being a hopelessly romantic teenager: “The only reason I was building a fire in the first place was to impress a young lady.”
It was a cold, windy night. So cold, that Connor pulled a space heater near him as he was trying to light the outdoor firepit.
“All of a sudden there was just a giant explosion- I just heard a woosh- something told me I was on fire and I just started yelling.”
He remembers hearing screams as his mother ran from the house, knocked him down and started trying to pat out the flames.
“The skin was just charcoal, just black.”
With burns to 90% of his body, Connor was flown to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, where he stayed for four months.
Jennie: “The doctors told your parents that you had less than a 1% chance of survival. You fought for your life.”
“Yeah, I mean fortunately for me I was in a coma for half of that, they put me in a medically-induced coma.”
Machines kept him alive as his body healed during the three-month coma. The bulk of his 130 surgeries happened then as well, so he wouldn’t remember feeling all of the pain.
“I had one day when they took 200 staples out of my leg – and it’s stuff like that where you’re thankful that you didn’t have to fully experience that.”
Learning to walk again, to move again, and dress himself…. all that was easy, he says, compared to accepting the face in the mirror.
“Basically, I went to sleep and I woke up and looked like a completely different person in the mirror… and that’s so hard to try to understand. You’re like, who is this?”
He accidentally caught a glimpse of himself on the screen of a laptop.
“And I mean it put me to tears! I shut the laptop and put it away and was like, who was that? It was scary- it made me feel bad because I was like ‘How could you sit here all day and look at me like I’m a normal kid, because I look nothing like a normal kid.”
“It took me just saying, I can’t change this and I have to figure out a way to find the best in this situation.”
And boy, did Tyler figure it out: by May, he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital closer to his home where he would learn to walk, tie his shoes, and button his clothes… and by that June, Connor walked across the stage for his 8th grade graduation.
Although his dream had always been to play college lacrosse, his medical procedures made lacrosse a challenge, but he did made the varsity soccer team as a sophomore. By the time he graduated from high school, the lacrosse coach at High Point University had recruited him to be student manager of the men’s team.
Today, Connor is a sophomore at High Point University… and against all odds, he is playing on the lacrosse team this year!
“You know it went from anytime somebody stared at me. when I was younger, with the burns it was like. ‘OMG they’re staring at me cause I’m a freak’ to now when people stare at me, I think they stare at me cause I’m a good lookin’ dude!
Connor supports the Still Burn Center and the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation. He served as this year’s Honorary Chairman of the BFF Blitz Campaign, which set out to raise $60,000 from the community.
Connor says he’s experienced first-hand how they take the worst imaginable situations… and give patients the best.
“The best care, the highest-end care, the best treatment, They give you everything that you need. I was able to do everything that I have been today because of the treatment and the care that they gave me.”
Jennie: “And let me ask you one more thing: when I see your skin, does it hurt when I touch you? Does your skin feel tight or dry?”
“No- and part of that is I put on a lot of lotion! It scrapes like normal skin, it burns and tans like normal skin would burn and tan- but don’t tell the doctors cause they don’t like knowing that!”