In our darkest hours--it can be hard to See The Possible. But a former firefighter has made it his mission to give hope to the youngest survivors of fire.
The term scarred for life is quite literal for Chrissy Aitkin, who at 5 years old, survived a fire that killed her two sisters and grandmother. A fire that started after someone threw a homemade bomb through the window.
“My dad had to bury his daughters and his mother on his birthday, October 4th, because it was the last day the hospital could hold the bodies," she said.
Chrissy was left with 3rd degree burns, and lost both her hands and feet. She could have died an emotional death. But after hundreds of surgeries she not only survived, but flourished. She now rides horses, runs marathons, and proudly showed us her tattoo of a Phoenix… with the date of the fire...a symbol that she was reborn.
"We're not victims of our circumstances. We're survivors," she said.
How did she get there? First you need to meet her friend Shameka McBride. At seven years old,
she also became a burn survivor. And as shocking as it sounds, someone threw a homemade bomb into "her" home.
"3rd degree burns over sixty five percent of my body. Told my mom I would never see, walk or talk,” she told me.
She did all of those things. But the hardest was going back to school and facing taunts like this…
"You burnt piece of toast. Your mother left you in the oven too long. Things like that," she described.
26 years later, as only a fighter can, Shameka is able to stand up to those who try to shame her.
“Now, these days, I don't care what people say. The stares. You can stare at me and I will stare you right back down," she said.
Chrissy and Shameka met 22 years ago at Camp Phoenix .
It's a place for burn survivors, where they focus on the "inside" wounds.
"To bring them all together to see that there are others like them, that have survived burns and they can relax and enjoy themselves together," says Jim Astorino.
Astorino is a retired Brook Park Firefighter, and Executive Director of ACBC or Aluminum Cans For Burned Children Foundation.
It raises money by collecting aluminum cans people drop off at firehouses around Northeast Ohio in a partnership with Metro Hospital. And it changes the lives of the 50 plus campers that go away for a four day retreat held twice a year
"Just knowing that someone else is like me and not having a care in the world when you are with them,” says Shameka.
The women are now counselors.
"I was very angry for a good couple of years. I just had a wall. So I wouldn't let nobody in," says Chrissy.
For Jim, it's just about giving back.
But there is one memory that stands out from summer: "The adults and the counselors were saying ‘come on kids we need to get into our groups’. And there was a little boy that shouted out, "Were not a group. We're a family."
If you'd like to help, just bring your empty aluminum cans to your local fire department. And for more information on their program, log on at acbcohio.org.