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Burn camp helps healing of Oak Harbor resident
It’s a memory that Suzie Bartlett wishes would just fade away.
A moment in her life she wishes could be erased. But the scene was so traumatic, she doubts she’ll ever be able to forget it.
Bartlett was upstairs in her Anacortes apartment changing clothes after work when she heard the scream from below.
She knew it was her son Joey, and as a mother of two boys, was familiar with screams, but this was unlike any other.
She rushed downstairs afraid and unprepared to see what was next.
“He was in the middle of the living room floor in flames,” she said.
Joey, 8 at the time, was on the back porch, trying to light a newspaper with a match and a couple drops of gas from a near empty gas can. In no time, Joey’s shirt caught fire.
He ran inside screaming in fear and pain from the flames that were burning his torso, back and neck.
“I was in shock,” Suzie Bartlett said.
The accident happened four years ago. And watching Joey and his brother Kenny goof around at an Oak Harbor park on a beautiful autumn evening last week, it’s impossible to tell there was any trauma to this family.
Suzie Bartlett and her husband Victor, who now live in Oak Harbor, watched Joey heal from both the emotional and physical scars during a long road of recovery that has included 14 surgeries.
And they are grateful to many who’ve helped along the way.
Holding a special place in Bartlett’s heart are the volunteers who run Camp Eyabsut, a camp in North Bend that nurtures and builds self-esteem of young burn victims.
For the past three summers, Bartlett watched her son grow from attending the week-long camp.
The impact was so strong and heart-felt that last year she started her own side business to help raise money for the camp.
As part of Suzie’s Odds & Ends, she sells pre-made cookie mix jars and all-natural sugar scrubs at local bazaars.
She and her husband decided to give half of the proceeds to Camp Eyabsut for the business’ first three years.
“It really hits close to my heart,” said Bartlett, who also works in the Apple-a-Day Cafe at Island Drug in Oak Harbor.
“If it wasn’t for the camp and the stuff they do, he wouldn’t be the person he is now. He is more self efficient, more active, more comfortable with what happened.”
The accident left Joey with burns on 27 percent of his body. He spent nearly three months recovering at the Harborview Burn Center in Seattle.
It’s taken time to recover from the emotional scars as well.
“He knows as a parent, you tell them, ‘Don’t play with matches,’” Bartlett said. “He felt so guilty. He could not look at me for a month.
“I told him, ‘I don’t care what happened. I just want you to get better.’”
Bartlett has watched her son blossom from a shy, timid boy after the accident. She describes Joey as an excited, active and inquisitive sixth grader at North Whidbey Middle School in Oak Harbor.
He turns 12 Saturday.
While she is grateful to many, including those at Harborview and Broad View Elementary, she said she believes the greatest healing came at Camp Eyabsut.
The camp got its name from the Skagit Tribe. Eyabsut means to “rise above anything,” which was endorsed as the camp’s mission.
“He’s become more comfortable with his scars,” Bartlett said. “He will walk around at home with no shirt on. He’s getting more comfortable with showing his skin in public.”
“We’ve been down a long road,” Victor said. “He’s doing good. Now we can’t get him to settle down.”
Bartlett said she’s sold more than 100 cookie jars with 14 sent to an aircraft carrier overseas. She has a website, www.campeyabsut.org, and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/suziesoddsandends
She is sometimes amazed by her son’s inner strength.
“It took two days to name him,” Bartlett said, recalling his birth.
“We gave him a strong Biblical name. He’s lived up to that.”