Gander burn sur­vivor search­ing for youth across the prov­ince to at­tend camp

Be­ing a camp leader has helped Gil­lard grow

The Beacon (Gander) - - Front page - BY CORY HUR­LEY

From a med­i­cally in­duced coma to camp coun­selor, Grant Gil­lard’s life has seen some big changes.

Now he’s try­ing to use his ex­pe­ri­ences to change the lives of oth­ers.

The burn sur­vivor is search­ing New­found­land and Labrador for other youth burn sur­vivors to show them there’s so much in life to be grate­ful for.

The Gander man nearly lost his life nine years ago in a fiery crash at the Gander de­mo­li­tion derby. A gas tank fail­ure ig­nited the car he was driv­ing, and he was caught in the in­ferno. He sus­tained burns to 47 per cent of his body and was put in a med­i­cally-in­duced coma for over two months. He re­mained a pa­tient in the Health Sciences Cen­tre in St. John’s for over a year.

He found his will to live in his fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly his then four-year-old daugh­ter Sab­rina. How­ever, it took some time for him to be­come the man he is now.

Al­though he still vol­un­teers at the derby, Gil­lard hasn’t been be­hind the wheel of a derby car since — not be­cause of fear, he says, just be­cause he hasn’t wanted to.

“I ac­tu­ally have no re­grets,” he said. “It was a freak ac­ci­dent, and it has ac­tu­ally made me a stronger and bet­ter per­son.”

What he has found is a yearn­ing for help­ing oth­ers.

The up­com­ing At­lantic Burn Camp in Cape Breton will be his sixth year as a camp leader and adult burn sur­vivor.

He is proof to the chil­dren at the camp that any­body can over­come burns and the phys­i­cal and emo­tional scars associated with them.

The looks he re­ceives from peo­ple are a nat­u­ral part of hu­man na­ture, but Gil­lard has his own way of deal­ing with it. It be­came eas­ier as the years went on, es­pe­cially as he got more com­fort­able with who he is.

“If I am at an ac­tiv­ity with my daugh­ter and we see a child star­ing, we will just walk over to them and ask if they want to know what hap­pened to me,” he said. “I’ll ex­plain it to them, and then they are like my best friend.”

The At­lantic Burn Camp is hosted by the Cape Breton Fire­fight­ers Burn Care So­ci­ety. The camp will be held Aug.13-20, and ac­cepts chil­dren aged 6-17 from Nova Sco­tia, New Brunswick, Prince Ed­ward Is­land and New­found­land and Labrador.

There was a time when a bus trav­elled across the prov­ince col­lect­ing up youth to at­tend the camp that has zero costs, in­clud­ing travel. Now, he said, very few at­tend from this prov­ince.

Gil­lard has made it a mis­sion to spread aware­ness and get as many youth to the camp as pos­si­ble. The de­gree of burn or where on the body it is does not mat­ter, he said, and it some­times can carry the same emo­tional trauma re­gard­less.

He says he has found five youth from cen­tral New­found­land he is hop­ing will at­tend the camp. He sus­pects there are many more he hasn’t reached yet.

“We are all about mak­ing th­ese kids feel com­fort­able in an en­vi­ron­ment where they can look at other peo­ple and say, ‘wow, this hap­pened to them and I don’t feel so left out now,’” he said.

It’s not just youth learn­ing and grow­ing from at­tend­ing th­ese camps. Gil­lard says he gets stronger each and ev­ery year.

“I have come to re­al­ize the rea­son I sur­vived this or­deal, and the rea­son I am so pos­i­tive and strong, is to help oth­ers — es­pe­cially th­ese kids and other burn sur­vivors or adults with dis­abil­i­ties in other ways,” he said. “It helps me grow as a per­son my­self.”

ADAM RAN­DELL/TC ME­DIA

Grant Gil­lard is search­ing for youth across the prov­ince to at­tend the At­lantic Burn Camp.

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