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MOBILE, Ala. -- Nearly seven years ago, volunteer fire chief Brad Cox ran out of oxygen, lost consciousness and suffered severe burns after battling a house fire on Dauphin Island. The veteran firefighter was flown by helicopter to USA Medical Center where he spent more than a month in the burn unit. His memories from that time are hazy, he says, because of long stretches of sedation as the burn team worked to ease his pain and save as much of his skin as possible through grafts and other operations.
“Before I ran out of air I came to terms with the fact that I was going to die,” Cox said, recalling the night he was critically injured. “Twenty-one days later I woke up full of tubes but alive. They saved my life and have given me every day since then to love my family and, yes, to fight fires again.”
While Cox served as a volunteer on Dauphin Island, a place he’s called home since high school, he also works as a full-time firefighter for Mobile Fire-Rescue. After sustaining burns to his hands, face, neck and head in the blaze, it took more than a year before he was able to return to work in Mobile on Nov. 11, 2011. In the time since, Cox and his family have returned to the Arnold Luterman Regional Burn Center to mark many of the anniversaries of his accident, delivering food and coffee to show gratitude for his care.
As he continues the physical and mental recovery from his life-changing injuries, Cox said support from his family, physicians, the burn team and counselors have helped him better cope with the traumatic memories and physical scars. When he learned of a new initiative at the hospital to help other burn patients, he knew it was something he wanted to be a part of.
Cox, 46, is one of the first volunteers for The Phoenix Society, a new program to assist burn patients with the healing process at the local hospital. Right now, nurse educator Gin Scott is training former patients to take part in a program called Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery, also referred to as SOAR.
"It's a way to get families involved and to offer peer support to burn patients," Scott said. "Being able to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience can be very helpful in the healing process."
This weekend, on Saturday, April 29, Cox also is attending the fourth annual Crawfish for a Cause, a fundraiser for the Arnold Luterman Regional Burn Center, where he will talk with those gathered about his experiences. He’s helping to raise awareness because many residents might not know about the center until they or a family member need it, or understand that such highly specialized care is expensive and not always covered by health insurance.
The event is planned from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday at The Grounds, 1035 Cody Road North, in west Mobile. Tickets are $25 and include boiled crawfish, live music, beverages, games for the kids and a fire engine. Tickets can be purchased online through Eventbrite.com or by calling ServPro at 251-343-0534 through April 26.
The internationally recognized Arnold Luterman Regional Burn Center provides specialized care to patients in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Among the busiest units of its type in the U.S., the burn center includes physicians specializing in burn surgery, infectious disease, plastic surgery, trauma surgery, orthopedic surgery, psychiatry, and anesthesiology. Support staff includes specialized burn nurses, social workers, dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists and a chaplain.
“We’ve had patients here for months who come back later and thank us,” said Kristopher Haskins, nurse manager of the Burn Center. “You take them from the verge of death and help them get their life back. That’s why our burn unit team is incredibly passionate about what we do. It’s not just a job.”
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