UC Davis has helped burn patient Duane Wright survive and thrive.
It was a nine-year struggle before firefighter Duane Wright had the courage to wear a short-sleeve shirt again. It was a battle that this burn patient — turned burn survivor — overcame because of the staff and resources at the UC Davis Health System’s Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center.
Wright, now retired from firefighting and working as an associate clinical social worker, was working his fourth year as a seasonal firefighter with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CAL FIRE, when he and his teammates were called to put out a small spot fire on the side of Highway 395 near Susanville, Calif. As the group fought the fire, winds picked up and the firefighters were confronted with a 200-foot wall of flames that immediately engulfed Wright and the others.
Wright, then just 21 years old, suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body. He spent the next seven weeks receiving treatment at what was then known as the UC Davis Regional Burn Center.
“Burn treatment is a nightmare,” Wright said. “But the staff conducted my treatment with dignity, and loved me enough to do what they needed to do to fix me. Without the support of the staff, there would have been no happy ending.”
Wright endured medically induced comas and multiple surgeries to apply skin grafts to his arms, back and legs. His treatment was ultimately successful. He then underwent months of physical therapy. Additionally, Wright said his healing process of learning to accept his physical scars and rising above his emotional scars was ameliorated by the Firefighters Burn Institute, a nonprofit organization that has been offering post-hospital support care and resources to burn survivors and their families in the Sacramento area for nearly 40 years. In 2010, the Firefighters Burn Institute strengthened its long-held affiliation with the UC Davis Health System by pledging more than $2 million toward the construction of a new burn institute facility, the Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center. The center opened in fall 2010 as part of UC Davis Health System’s new Surgery and Emergency Services Pavilion. The institute’s gift, which is part of The Campaign for UC Davis, represents the single largest philanthropic pledge toward the pavilion.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for the burn institute and the donors of the institute,” said Wright, who volunteers his time at the burn center and at Shriners Hospital for Children helping other burn patients. “The UC Davis burn unit helped me survive, but the Firefighter Burn Institute helped me thrive. And to thrive instead of just survive.” He paused to fight back the tears. “It’s a dream.”