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July 18th, 2012
01:21 PM ET

Healing process more than skin deep for burn survivors

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds.  Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  Lesia Cartelli's childhood tragedy motivated her to found a retreat for young women who have scars just like hers.

It happened again.  We witnessed more miracles of strength and courage in just seven days.  We just completed our ninth retreat at Angel Faces.

After every retreat I think…can this get any better? Are there more girls out there in the world with so much pain, yet desire to heal from their serious burn injuries?  The next year rolls around, another retreat gets underway where we witness more adolescent girls flocking to us with a hunger to overcome their fears of being accepted, a desire to embrace who they are, and an urge to get excited about a new life.

The girls arrive at the front gate with scars molding and weaving various shapes over what once was fresh, virgin skin. Often the depth of their scars is not even close to the depth of heart pain that came with those scars. 

Some have lost a family member; have been in a tragic accident; lost their childhood at best.  Their suitcases are full of clothes and toiletries they need for the week – but it’s the invisible suitcase of pain and rejection that is the heaviest to carry up the stairs to their assigned room.  They walk back down again to an in-depth program, then to the pool, yoga field and dining room..dragging their invisible suitcases behind.

My passion for the girls to heal is fueled by my own pain at their age.  I was severely burned over half my body in a natural gas explosion at the age of nine.  My grandparent’s home was completely destroyed.  I tossed and turned on my journey as an adolescent with severe scars on my face – I knew pain both inside and out.  I continuously did everything I could to heal and live life fully. 

After starting a burn camp in San Diego when I was 30, I couldn’t tell the children to face their fears jumping off the diving board when I feared fire.  Fear was fear.  In my hunger to free my heart, I suited up in firefighting gear and went back into a “controlled” fire to face and heal my fears of fire as an adult, not as a scared little girl trapped with the beast in my grandparents basement years ago.  Sure! I embraced and healed that fear –- and married the fire captain whose hand I gripped as the pallets were set ablaze in the dark cement training tower.

That day I became free.

Today, I’m deeply grateful for my unbelievable team of devoted volunteers I call my "High Tribe" to make the retreat at Angel Faces happen.  The best of the best of women who are willing to leave their own pain, struggles and challenges at home and bring their love, life lessons, compassion, time, strength, courage and spiritual wisdom – for girls they have never met.  My "High Tribe" women are a powerful force of commitment and duty to help pull the girls up from pain and direct them onto a goal setting future.

The other critical part of creating the powerful week at Angel Faces is our donors and supporters.  I’m greatly humbled for the financial support. People giving their hard earned dollars to us – trusting us that we do our best to help the girls push through their scars and pain.  And we do. In our published research, emails from the parents say: “Thank you for giving my daughter back.”   This tells us Angel Faces works.

“When I flew out here to Angel Faces, I sat on the plane with my head down – so scared the person next to me would look at me or talk to me, said Angela, a first time Angel Faces participant. “Now when I fly home, I’m going to introduce myself to my seatmate and say hello – I have a whole new life waiting for me”. Angela doesn’t need to pay a baggage fee anymore for her invisible luggage filled with pain; it no longer exists.


soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. SL

    What a wonderful idea! I wish there were programs such as this in my area that I could volunteer for. As a licensed psycho-therapist, I can understand the value of this experience. I hope that it continues its success. God bless all of you and your campers.

    July 18, 2012 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. J

    apparently shame on you CNN is a term that doesnt get posted... test test.....

    July 18, 2012 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. J

    CNN wants user generated material and opinion SO bad that theyre willing to tolerate comments like SLs... they dont care what people say they just want to know what they like and dont like.. insulting ppl whove been burned? CNN doesnt care. they just want to know which stories theyre clicking and commenting on and why.. its pathetic ... and they should be ashamed.

    July 18, 2012 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. J

    before someone blasts me i realize SL was the good guy i dont comment here so i misunderstood and please realize i was yellin about LIFT HEAVY AND TAKE A MULTI... that dude.. i apologize publicly to SL ... i made a mistake.... clearly my replies to show who i was talking about

    July 18, 2012 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Beth Erickson

    What about young men with burns-evidently they aren't worth the time-

    July 18, 2012 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wilko

      No, but like it or not, women and girls are more often judged on their physical appearance. As a survivor of severe burns in my teens, i can tel you that as hard as it was to adapt, it would have been much worse if I wasn't a guy. There are lots of co-ed burn camps, this one fills a great niche. And of course- you could always log-off and go start one if you really cared.

      July 18, 2012 at 23:29 | Report abuse |
  6. Jay

    Why some of you have so little going on in your lives to click on the link to this story and then post negative comments is beyond me. You should be embarrassed for yourselves. Get off the couch, get a girlfriend or boyfriend, get a job, get a past-time activity. Do something that takes up your time so you don't have to lead such a pitiful and pathetic existence.

    July 18, 2012 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. mary

    I can't think of anything more horrendous than a burn injury.. The pain these people suffer just to get past the critical point in the healing process .. Is beyond imagination..
    The scars and the surgeries they must endure for years, and then the courage to make the most of the life they have.. Is something we all should admire.
    All burn victims are hero's in my opinion..

    July 19, 2012 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mateo

      Except for those that have burn injuries from making meth. Meth related injuries make up about 40% of a burn center's population. Most of them, if they don't die because of the extent of their injuries, will be given free healthcare paid by us. The care given to stabilize them, skin grafts, and rehabilitation programs are all paid for by us. Funny thing is once rehab is over, these "victims" go back and most attempt to make meth again. Cool huh? :)

      July 19, 2012 at 06:44 | Report abuse |
  8. ladydi

    Freak ing idi0t

    July 19, 2012 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Wilma Wonka

    In truth, I watched the video but did not listen. All I saw were beautiful young woman and an absolutely gorgeous instructor. Truly. Beauty is more than the physical. It's a way of carrying yourself. It's a way of communicating with your eyes and body language. Makeup will make these women feel more comfortable but the beauty, well, they've already got it.

    July 19, 2012 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tjp44

    J....big talker but too bad the unit doesn't work

    July 19, 2012 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. LIFT HEAVY AND TAKE A MULTI

    I apologize for the.. sizzling insult I made. Please forgive my words, as it appears they have left a.. trail of fire. Waha. Aha. Wuaha. Muwaha. Muwahawuahwauwha.

    July 20, 2012 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lift light and eat right!

    Please excuse the burning remark I made - it appears my hot words left a trail of fire!

    July 20, 2012 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. JJay

    There is a wonderful, and inspirational new film, "TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-Forged" w/ J.R. Martinez coming out that really celebrates the strength of burn survivors. http:trialbyfiredoc.org

    July 22, 2012 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. JJay

    http://TrialByFireDoc.org

    July 22, 2012 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Abbas

    I'm sorry that the downtime came at such an ineinvcnoent time for you. The reason we went for this time was that the weekly traffic in Toggl is smallest on Sundays, so we were trying to impact as few users as possible. We will keep your comment in mind if we should need to do this again, though.@Stephan: Thanks for such kind words, it generated many smiles in the office!

    August 1, 2012 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Luz

      I have a friend who is a fundy. She was teianchg her daughter about hell and now the poor little thing can't sleep at night. She wakes up from terrible nightmares about hell, screaming that the Satan is gonna take her to hell.. Of course her mother can't understand why her daughter is upset about it. She is six. I was raised by christians who NEVER taught me that there were other religions or that I had a choice. I also had nightmares about hell. Their minister told them it was a phase I was going through and that it is common for kids to be like that. SNORT!!!!If that isn't emotional and spiritual abuse I don't know what is.

      September 14, 2012 at 01:33 | Report abuse |
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.