July 18th, 2012
01:21 PM ET
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.
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.
From around the web
About this blog
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.