Severe burns often bring intense, prolonged pain with lasting wounds that can draw unwelcome attention from others.
“When you have severe burns and disfigurement and have to go out into the public every day to live a normal life, you get scrutinized for the way you look — and it’s not something you can change,” said former Navy SEAL Ryan Parrott.
Recognizing that there’s a high number of people with traumatic burns, Parrott founded Sons of the Flag to fund medical research and help victims pay for the high costs associated with burn care.
But it wasn’t just his time in the SEALs that awakened Parrott’s passion for helping burn victims. It was when he met an Army Ranger severely burned by an IED (improvised explosive device) that did it.
“That’s what inspired me,” Parrott said. “People who get injured are not monsters. And people need to stop staring at differences and start looking at how we can help people. Especially with this injury, it needs our attention and help right now.”
Burn treatment often includes multiple surgeries to achieve something as small as a skin graft. One patient, Omar Avila, has had 102 surgeries to date.
“It’s brutal, the surgeries,” Parrott said. “Doctors are doing their best to get them back to a state of normalcy, but we still have a lot of work to do to make surgeries less invasive. The general mass of burn care is behind.”
The nonprofit has helped Parkland Hospital, a leading authority in burn care, hire two doctors who have a specific concentration on burns — something Parrott said is scarce in the medical field.
“Burn professionals are turning their focus to survivor aftercare and community reintegration,” said Catherine Bradley, Parkland media supervisor.
As a Burn Model Systems participant, Parkland works with University of Texas Southwestern Medical School on innovative projects and research that supports patients with severe burn injuries.
The recently established Sons of the Flag Endowment for Burn Care Supplies provides costly wound-care kits and supplies to the hospital’s burn patients.
Beth Dexter, Parkland Foundation development officer, said the average cost of a burn-care kit is $150. Its contents contain items such as special gauze and dressings; patients go through five to 10 kits per week.
Sons of the Flag also has a task force composed of firefighters across the country who connect with the organization through an annual first-responder conference.
“We designed this to be a pipeline to help organizations, hospitals, whatever it is that pertains to burns. We wanted to … feed where we needed to feed in the burn community. Ultimately, I’m not going to sit back and watch burns stay the same for the next 40 years of my life.”