Champ Camp Appeal 2019

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Champ Camp Appeal 2019

Without the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation staying connected with me throughout the years and making sure of my health and well-being, I don’t know where I would be at right now. They are absolutely vital to my recovery process, even to this day.”
Joey Johannsen, Burn Survivor


Imagine waking up – your body wrapped in bandages, you are in great pain and you have no idea where you are. You are scared, alone, conscious but barely able to speak. You cry for your mother, “Mom? Where’s my mom? I want my mom.” The doctor and nurses that surround you just look at each other with no answer for you. As terrifying as this situation is, this was Joey Johannsen’s reality at the tender age of eight years old. This was just the beginning of a long road to recovery from a fatal car crash that left Joey motherless and with burns covering 35% of his body. Will you consider making a significant gift today to assist burn survivors like Joey recover from their burn injury and rise above their trauma?

Joey and his mother Nancy before the accident

It was 6:30am on July 8, 1995, when Joey Johannsen slept in the back seat of his mother’s Chevrolet Sprint as the car rounded the winding Calistoga Road of Santa Rosa, CA. Joey, his mother Nancy, and her boyfriend Tom were on their way to pick up Joey’s older brother from a friend’s house, when suddenly the car drove off the road, slammed into a tree and burst into flames. Joey recalls waking up on the roof of the overturned car, seeing flames, being suffocated by the smoke, and Tom’s body on top of him. Joey could only scream for help in the burning wreckage while the fire responders were on the way.

Firefighters pulling Joey, Nancy and Tom from the wreckage

“We turned the hoses on the car to keep it from exploding. The child was screaming for help,” said a neighbor who rushed to the tragic scene. Dozens of neighbors heard the terrifying sound of the car crash and rushed to the scene to find the vehicle on fire and to hear. The neighbors turned their garden hoses on the fire until the first responders arrived. Joey was the only one to survive the car crash. Joey’s mother Nancy and her boyfriend Tom were found dead at the scene. They were just a few blocks from the friend’s house where Joey’s brother was staying and it was just nine days before Nancy’s 42nd birthday.

“He’s got a tough road ahead of him. He’s fighting. He’s really tough. He’s hanging in there,” said Cheryl Miller, a family friend. Joey was rushed from the scene to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and was treated for burns and smoke inhalation. He was then airlifted to Saint Francis Medical Center’s Burn Unit in San Francisco. Joey suffered from 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 35% of his body and was only given a 10% chance of survival. He remained in the Intensive Care Unit for a month in critical condition and remained in the burn unit for four more months. Joey battled nine bacterial infections in his leg and ankle, endured 18 reconstructive surgeries and had a kneecap removed.

Joey post-surgery with leg braces

When Joey asked about his mother, the nurses told him that she was recovering in another hospital. The medical staff decided not to tell Joey about his mother’s death until he pulled through his own recovery. When he was finally told that his mother had passed away, Joey was upset and distraught, but he understood that he needed to focus on his own recovery. Joey moved in with his father once he was released from the hospital.


Joey at Champ Camp at age 10

“Champ Camp gave me a feeling that I was found and connected,”  Joey Johannsen.

The next summer, Joey was well enough to attend the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation’s Champ Camp, the world’s largest and longest running residential summer camp for burn injured children. Joey boarded a plane, for the first time ever, to arrive at camp. At age 9, Joey was amazed meeting other child burn survivors as well as camp counselors who were also burn survivors. Joey was greatly impacted by one camp counselor- a burn survivor with an amputated leg who was picking up kids, running around and participating in all of the activities. Having had his kneecap amputated, Joey had never seen anyone like him be so active and joyous. Joey was inspired and grateful to be at Champ Camp.

“Getting on the bus to go back to ‘reality’ was the most painful thing because that pure love and joy didn’t exist in the real world, the way you felt it at Champ Camp,” recalled Joey about having to return home from Champ Camp his first year. Since 1996, Joey has attended Champ Camp 23 times and has not missed a single year. Now at age 32, Joey is a Champ Camp counselor known as “Baby Bear,” and provides burn-injured children the same love, support, inspiration and encouragement that he has received for more than 20 years.


Champ Camp has profoundly impacted the lives of more than 3,500 burn survivors since its founding in 1986. Champ Camp is a safe place where burn survivors meet other burn survivors to play, challenge themselves, strengthen self-esteem, and develop lifelong friendships. Campers and their families are never charged a dime for camp, and a gift of $750 affords one child the opportunity to attend Champ Camp for a week. Of course, your donation of any amount helps assure we can provide the life-changing Champ Camp experience to as many kids as possible. Please consider making a meaningful gift, in any amount, to help a child affected by burns the chance to survive and thrive.

Thank you for helping us to continue to enhance the quality of life of those affected by burn-injuries through loving and supportive programs like Champ Camp.


Jennifer Radics-Johnson, AARBF Executive Director

P.S. Online donations may be made quickly and easily at Click the “Donate Now” button at the top right of the webpage for more details.