Gander burn survivor searching for youth across the province to attend camp
Being a camp leader has helped Gillard grow
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.”
Grant Gillard is searching for youth across the province to attend the Atlantic Burn Camp.