Burn survivor Karen Starrs, center, presents Burn Center Outpatient Clinic Michael Chambers (physician assistant) and Bethany Martinez (registered nurse) with framed military coins and thank you notes for the Burn Center Outpatient Clinic and Intensive Care Unit.
By Steven Galvan, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
03 FEBRUARY 2015
There are two words that the staff at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center routinely hear—“thank you.” That simple phrase is usually accompanied by a hand shake or a hug from a patient, family member or friend and is all the reassurance that the staff needs to know that they are providing the best care for every patient every day. Karen Starrs and her husband Ken went further to express their gratitude for the care she received as a patient in the Burn Center. They designed a military challenge coin, mounted the coin with a thank you note in a picture frame, and presented it to the burn center staff as a token of their appreciation.
“The burn center team is an amazing and dedicated staff,” said Ken. “We had to do this. The care that they provided Karen is unbelievable and the reason that she is here today.”
Ken is not exaggerating. Karen was given a 2 percent chance of survival. Forty-five percent of her body had been burned and her airway and lungs were severely damaged from smoke inhalation.
January 21, 2013 is the day that changed the Starr’s lives and the day that they now celebrate as Karen’s “Alive Day.”
“It’s the anniversary of the miracle,” Ken said.
At 5 o’clock that morning the Starrs were awaken by a loud pop in their home at Corpus Christie, Texas that started a fire and destroyed it.
“I don’t know what caused it, but I was told it was electrical,” recalled Ken.
The Starrs were able to make it outside unharmed, but realized that their pets (a dog, 2 cats and a bird) were still inside. Ken ran to the garage to rescue the pets, not knowing that Karen had gone back inside the front door to do the same.
“I went in the side door and she went in through the front,” Ken said. “Once I realized Karen and gone inside, I tried to reenter through the front door but was hit by a rush of flame and smoke that drove me back into the yard.”
Ken made it back inside and was able to get Karen out, who wasn’t breathing. With a chest compression Ken revived his wife.
Karen was taken to a local hospital where Ken was told that his wife needed to be transferred to the burn center in San Antonio. Initially told that Karen would be airlifted to the burn center, preparations were made to transfer her by ambulance due to foggy weather.
“In the last minute I was told that the fog had lifted enough and that they would be able to airlift Karen to San Antonio,” said Ken. “I was advised later that if they would have taken her by ambulance she would not have made it because of the smoke inhalation.”
Chris Boyd, a nurse at the Burn Center Intensive Care Unit remembers the day Karen was admitted to the Burn Center.
“Her condition was very serious,” he said.
The Starrs family was told to be prepared for a roller coaster ride with good news one day followed by setbacks. On April 9th, after numerous medical procedures, countless hours of rehabilitation, healing milestones and setbacks, Karen was released from the Burn Center to a rehabilitation center in Corpus Christi. Ken recalls what he and his family have gone through as a family during the past two years.
“I still get emotional thinking about it,” said Ken, who is a law enforcement officer in Corpus Christi. “But here we are now and we owe it all to the great work done by the entire staff at this Burn Center.”
The Starrs presented the framed gifts to the Commander of the Brooke Army Medical Center, Col. (Dr.) Evan Renz, the Director of the Burn Center in 2013; the San Antonio Military Medical Center Ear, Nose and Throat Department; the Burn Center Outpatient Clinic; and the Burn Center Intensive Care Unit.
“It’s uncalled for,” said Boyd. “But it’s amazing and awesome. It makes us feel good to get the ‘thank you’ and recognition.”
The Starrs have built a new home in the same location where the other was destroyed by the fire where they live with their pets, except for the bird, who did not survive the fire. Life for the Starrs is back to their new normal. Designing the military challenge coin and presenting it to the staff at the Burn Center and SAMMC was something that the Starrs felt that they had to do to show their appreciation.
“Words cannot describe the gratitude that we have for the care that the staff gave Karen,” said Ken. “She wouldn’t be here without them.”