April 2010

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Injured Member Aids Burn Survivors

The blast was so sudden that Dave Schury lost all sense of time and space.

While he was performing an otherwise routine switchgear upgrade on a sunny April morning in south Chicago, a rat chewed through some wiring and caused the 12,000-volt piece of equipment to immediately explode – engulfing the Commonwealth Edison Co. area operator in flames and sending searing heat and smoke down his lungs.

Barely breathing and in tremendous pain, Schury was rushed to Cook County Hospital. The next two weeks were critical. With second- and third-degree burns covering 30 percent of his body, the Chicago Local 15 member was clinging to survival one breath at a time.

"It was brutal," Schury said of the 2000 tragedy. "I'll never forget the fear I felt."

With time, he took well to his doctors' treatments. His breathing returned to normal after eight days on a ventilator and his skin began to heal.

Despite all odds, Schury was back on the job four months later, doing the same work he'd done for the company for more than two decades.

"I'm not someone who gives up," Schury said. "And I like what I do for a living. I didn't really want to change career paths. But things were psychologically terrible for the first year. When I had to work on similar equipment, it was scary. I said, ‘God, please don't let this happen again.'"

But the more time he put in, the more the fear went away – and the greater sense of peace he gained in the wake of the disaster.

"I had a lot of support from my family and the company," Schury said. "But what was missing was someone who'd experienced something similar to talk me through it."

Recognizing that need, Schury began immersing himself in advocacy for burn victims. One of his first endeavors was volunteering at Camp I Am Me, a summer burn camp program outside of Chicago for children aged 8 to 16. Schury said it was through working with the youth and noting their resilience that he truly started to feel like himself again.

One afternoon at the camp, a youngster came up to him and asked why he was wearing long sleeves.

"‘We're all the same here at camp,'" Schury recalled the child saying. "‘You don't need to hide your burns.'"

The exchange encouraged Schury to ramp up his activism. Soon, he and his wife Michele were volunteering with Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery (a program at Loyola Hospital's Burn Center), attending international conferences by the World Burn Congress and spending time with injured workers and their families in recovery rooms. Last year, he was honored in Washington, D.C., by the Jefferson Awards Board – a group co-founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that recognizes outstanding volunteer work throughout the nation.

"It is one thing for a doctor to tell someone they will recover, but it's something entirely different for someone like me, who has been through what they are going through, to provide support and assure them that they will indeed recover," Schury said. "This important component of recovery was something that I never had when I was burned, so I vowed to never let anyone go through that experience alone if I can help it."

Now, his efforts are hitting a high-water mark. Late last year, Schury launched the From Tragedy to Triumph Foundation to help young burn victims regain confidence after their ordeals. One of the foundation's goals is to provide scholarships to families with financial needs so that their children can attend college or enter post-secondary vocational training.

"When a loved one goes through a life-changing tragedy, it affects the entire family," Schury said. "We all strive to find normalcy again. What we realize through any tragedy, once we survive, we are living a ‘new normal' life."

With the foundation's first major fundraiser coming up on April 25, members of Local 15 have thrown their support behind Schury by purchasing hundreds of dollars in raffle tickets and donating merchandise for the event.

"You couldn't ask for a nicer guy who's always there in a time of need," Local 15 Business Manager Dean Apple said of Schury. "He's a rare person with a heart of gold, especially when some people these days tend to be all about themselves."

Schury's employer is backing him, too – offering thousands of dollars in donated legal service to help him secure 501(c)(3) tax-exemption status for the nonprofit foundation and making a sizeable donation for the fundraiser.

"ComEd is proud to have one of our own demonstrating leadership and compassion in this way," said Anne Pramaggiore, ComEd president and chief operating officer. "Dave's energy and his commitment to helping young burn survivors deal with the psychological scars associated with their injuries is inspiring to all of us."

Schury says his advocacy is a reward unto itself.

"When I'm at the burn unit talking with a patient and their family, I start to see their faces going from being stressed to relaxed. What I do, I don't want to do for recognition. The rewards are when I talk to the people and I get a hug or a smile – then I know I made a difference in their lives. That's worth the effort."

For more on the From Tragedy to Triumph Foundation, or to contact Schury regarding burn recovery, visit www.ftttf.org.

Chicago Local 15 member Dave Schury serves as a counselor for injured children at Camp I Am Me.