The day after Christmas, December 26, 2006, Shannon and Amanda, along with 11 of their family members, were gathered for the holidays at their grandparents’ house. The house was in the midst of remodeling projects, so all of the smoke alarms were removed. A space heater, which would later be determined as the cause of the fire, was turned on in the living room. Around 4:00am, their grandfather smelled smoke and began waking the rest of his family to evacuate the house.
Many were able to escape uninjured, either through the back door or by crawling out a window. When firefighters arrived on scene, the fire was large and growing by the minute. Nine-year-old Shannon, suffering burns to her right arm, escaped by jumping through a window. Amanda, just one year older, was found lying in the living room without a pulse. After paramedics removed her from the burning house they were able to resuscitate her.
Due to the burn injuries that Shannon sustained, she was taken to Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s Burn Unit, where she stayed for over one month. Amanda was taken 30 minutes away to Long Beach Miller Children’s Hospital due to the smoke inhalation that she suffered, in addition to her burn injury. She, too, was in the hospital for a month. During Shannon and Amanda’s hospitalization, the family learned about the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation’s various services, including Champ Camp, a summer camp for burn-injured children.
In June 2007, just six months after the house fire, with the encouragement of their mother, Amanda and Shannon reluctantly attended their first year of Champ Camp. They both remember being nervous and even scared to go, as they did not know what to expect and did not want to leave their family. By the end of that life-changing summer week they had created an unexpectedly strong bond with their fellow campers and counselors, and cried because they did not want to leave.
One memory that will stay with Shannon forever happened on her first day of Champ Camp: “We were in our cabin getting ready for our next activity and the first thing I did was put on my jacket,” said Shannon. “I was so used to wearing a jacket, no matter how hot outside, to cover-up my scars. My counselor let me know that I did not have to cover-up here and this was a place where you could show your scars and be proud. My perspective of my scars changed and my self-confidence began to grow.”
“Life would be very challenging without Champ Camp,” said Amanda. “It has helped us with a lot of different things, from being comfortable in our own skin and not hiding our scars, to giving us the opportunity to meet other burn survivors and know that we are not alone.”
Champ Camp is how Shannon and Amanda were first introduced to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, and they have since participated in a number of other programs offered by AARBF. They have attended the yearly Holiday Parties, Young Adult Summit, Surf Trip, The Getaway Family Camp and the sisters even went on the Ski Trip where they experienced snow for the first time in their lives!
Shannon and Amanda give back to the organization that has supported them for more than a decade. They consistently volunteer at events like the Torrance Firefighters Spaghetti Dinner and the Southern California Burn Relay, where they have the opportunity to interact with the public and share their story.