Burned as an infant, Anna Staff, BSN, RN, wore long-sleeved shirts to hide the scars, but at Parkland Health and Hospital System’s Meridian, Texas-based Camp I-Thonka-Chi, she felt safe, laughed,
played and set out on outdoor adventures with fellow burn survivors. Camp gave her courage to be herself, and now she volunteers at the camp to give children a similar experience.
“I grew up at camp and know how special it is to me, and going back every year is my way of giving back,” said Staff, a NICU nurse at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center in Texas. “I find every year, after camp is over, my spirit is rejuvenated.”
Staff attended annually, starting in 2000 when she was 10 years old. After she aged out at 18 in 2009, she worked that summer at Camp John Marc, which operates Parkland’s burn camp, and then began volunteering as a counselor at the weeklong burn camp.
“I fell in love with camp, and never stopped going,” said Staff, describing a family atmosphere and children who returned again and again. “Every year, you picked up where you left off. Those relationships became important growing up, and some I still have as an adult.”
As a counselor, she shepherds the children from activity to activity and bunks in the same cabin with about seven girls and two other counselors, who ensure the campers’ physical and emotional needs are met.
“It’s just making sure they know how special they are and beautiful inside and out,” Staff said.
Staff does not talk about her burns unless the children bring them up. The children can see her scars on her arms and neck.
“Anna is a special person, sweet and a lot of fun,” said Donna Crump, PT, volunteer camp director and physical medicine and rehabilitation outpatient manager at Parkland in Dallas. “She is able to relate to the kids who have survived burn injuries in a special way, because she is a burn survivor herself. She is a great role model of how to survive and thrive. She has not let it slow her down. She’s self-confident — that radiates. The kids see it and are inspired by her. She’s an asset to our program.”
The camp relies on volunteer counselors willing to give the time and unselfishly share a week with the children.
Staff does not remember being burned nor her hospital stay on the burn unit, as she was only 19 months old. However, observing the compassion and outpouring of love the volunteer nurses at the camp gave the children influenced her decision to become a nurse.
“I knew I wanted to give back like that,” Staff said.
Debra Anscombe Wood, RN, is a freelance writer.