Laura Thomas helps others on their journey to recovery
To look at Laura Thomas today, you would never know that she quietly suffers from life-altering burn injuries that have left her scarred and in constant pain.
The wife and mother of three was a patient at Via Christi Regional Burn Center for six weeks after being burned in a flash fire at her workplace.
That was nearly eight year ago. Now she is a frequent visitor to the center as a volunteer for SOAR — Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery — to give hope to others.
“She is instrumental in building a rapport and a connection with people,” says Curt West, a case worker in the burn center. “I think they find her a positive role model because she is articulate, passionate about life and she’s recovered well — emotionally and physically.”
“I just want to tell patients, ‘Yes, you will get past this and follow what the nurses and doctors tell you,’ ” says Laura. “ ‘They know what’s best. You’re blessed to be here at Via Christi.’ ”
Laura’s optimism, infectious smile and friendly demeanor are inspirational to burn patients.
Shel Hughes, the first patient Laura counseled as a SOAR volunteer, was burned as she was pouring gas into her riding mower.
“When Laura first visited me, I was scared and I had a lot of questions about what my life would be like,” Shel says. “She understood what I was going through. Laura comforted me and let me know everything would be all right.”
Shel says Laura motivated her to become a SOAR volunteer, too.
“I feel like helping burn patients is my calling,” she says. “I need to be there for them like Laura was for me.”
A disastrous chain of events
On Jan. 3, 2005, the Winfield, Kan., office manager was looking over a newly painted hallway when someone kicked over a can of acetone. She then slipped and fell in the caustic substance. As she struggled to her feet, a spark of static electricity ignited the chemical fumes and caused a powerful flash fire that threw her into a glass cabinet and severely burned her legs.
On fire, Laura dropped to the ground and rolled while one co-worker removed his shirt to help her extinguish the flames. Another co-worker tried to help douse the fire with a nearby pot of coffee, scalding her already sensitive skin and compounding her injuries.
Badly burned and in tremendous pain, Laura was taken to the town’s hospital, then transported by ambulance to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, which houses the only dedicated burn care facility within 180 miles of Wichita.
Ways to help burn patients
To give directly to the Burn Center, contact Connie Neal at
316-268-5292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part of the Prairie Fire Marathon — a 1.2-mile fun run/walk sponsored by the Paige Estes Memorial Foundation — benefits
Via Christi Regional Burn Center. The marathon occurs each fall. Last year, $10,000 helped provide necessities to burn patients and their families.
For more information about Prairie Fire events,
What is SOAR?
Designed by the Phoenix Society, the Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery (SOAR) program provides formal training to burn survivors who can help comfort burn patients and their loved ones by giving them one-on-one support. Volunteers do not give medical advice, but they can share their experiences and give hope to burn patients.
Since its creation in 2001, the SOAR program has been implemented in 48 hospitals throughout the U.S. and Canada. The program came to Via Christi Regional Burn Center in 2010 and has six participating volunteers.
Learn more about SOAR