Martha Banks: The Power of Support

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Martha Banks: The Power of Support

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”

– Mother Teresa

2023 was an amazing year filled with many beautiful moments and changes. As we reflect on this year’s memories, we cannot help but appreciate how important you are to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation.

At the end of each year, we take an opportunity to share the story of a Burn Survivor in our community. This year, it seemed only fitting to share the story of one of our newest staff members.

Martha Banks joined the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation staff in June this year as our Burn Survivor Services Care Manager. Although Martha is no stranger to the burn community or the Burn Foundation, her story is a perfect reminder of the impact one life can have on others and the healing power of the burn community.

Martha was a typical 11-year-old girl living in Guadalajara, Mexico with her mother and eight siblings. She had a happy life filled with joyful memories of spending time with her friends and family, participating in academic competitions, and pursuing her passion for gymnastics.

Then on one fateful day, everything changed.  While on her way to school, riding a public bus, a woman carrying two propane tanks entered the bus and filled the air with gas. Moments later, a man decided to light a cigarette, in seconds, a fire engulfed the full bus, followed by an explosion that killed everyone but nine survivors, including Martha.

Martha was rushed to the hospital and remembers her care being difficult. The dressing changes were a nightmare, medications were limited, and she struggled to learn to walk again. But the hardest day for Martha was the day that she saw herself for the first time.

After her nurse left the room, a curious young Martha walked up to a mirror but couldn’t recognize herself. Staring at her reflection, she watched as the person in the mirror mimicked her every action, she was convinced this could not be her.  Yet when she got closer and looked into her eyes, she was shocked at the reality.  At that moment, Martha was hit with a rush of emotions and thoughts. “I wanted to die, I didn’t want to look like this, and I didn’t want anyone to see me like this.”

After three months in the hospital, Martha was discharged. Once home, Martha began to isolate herself and would refuse to allow anyone to see her. Friends and family would come to visit but she would always remain in her room, not even joining her family for meals. When she had to leave the house, she would use a towel to cover her face and hide. Her accident provoked depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Two years later, at the age of 13, things began to change. Martha and her family moved to California where she began receiving treatment at Shriners Hospital.  It was at Shriners, that Martha remembers being introduced to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation through a very animated and passionate James Bosch; a burn survivor, an advocate, and an AARBF staff member.

James tried to convince Martha to come to Champ Camp, but the 13-year-old couldn’t imagine leaving her mom and being away from home for a week. James didn’t give up, as he knew the healing power of the Burn Foundation and Champ Camp. Three years later, at the age of 16, James was finally successful.

Martha boarded the bus to camp scared. However, her fears quickly disappeared once she arrived at camp. She immediately felt accepted by the counselors and campers. Within no time at all, she shed the towel that once covered her face, and now used it to dry off from a day of swimming. Martha loved being at the pool, in her bathing suit, without a care in the world or the fear anyone would see her.  “I was not thinking about it, I was not thinking about my scars, I felt SAFE.” Going back home, Martha chose to continue on the path of recovery.  “I loved the freedom. I loved not caring or wondering what people would say.”

Fast forward to today. Martha is a mother and wife. She earned her master’s degree and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  And in a full circle moment, Martha finds herself back in the burn unit, but now in a very different role.

Martha’s success wasn’t easy. She made many sacrifices and overcame hardships along the way.  Yet Martha’s experience at Champ Camp taught her that she needed to be part of the burn community. “Seeing James, and how alive he was, and how happy he was, and how ‘normal’ he was, I said to myself, ‘I want to be like him,  I want to feel that, I want to experience that.”

James was Martha’s inspiration to not only love and accept herself. He also became one of the driving forces behind her commitment to give back to the burn community and help other survivors. “I wanted to follow in James’s path.” And now, she is doing just that!

Martha now works with hundreds of burn survivors throughout California, providing resources and offering emotional support just like James. Her work as a Burn Survivor Services Care Manager is vital to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. This work can only be continued with the support of generous donors like you. Your donation will allow Martha to impact others the way James impacted her.  Who knows? The ripple that James represented may, through Martha, foster the next generation of AARBF burn survivor staff!