Young burn victims transformed through summer camp


by By / KING 5 News

Posted on August 26, 2009 at 5:04 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 29 at 10:55 AM

Video: Camp Phoenix helps children with serious burns

SKAGIT COUNTY, Wash. - Behind the smiles of summer camp, their bodies bear the scars of lifetimes of pain.

These are young burn victims, stuck in their own private purgatories where people don't want to look, but can't help but stare.

Sixteen-year-old Colleen somehow survived after her crib caught fire when she was just a year old. Ten-year-old Johnny was burned over 90 percent of his body in a house fire. And 15-year-old Davey's body burned for more than a minute while clearing brush in his back yard.

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Along with their burns, they all share the same emotional pain. Nine-year-old Austin knows it well. He feels it every time he walks down the street:

"Everybody would just stare at me. What was that like? Horrible. I didn't like it," he said.

Counselors at the camp say there are countless kids all across the country who live their lives in silent isolation, afraid to face world than can be cruel. The purpose of this camp is to break down those barriers.

"My first comment was, 'I'm a monster,'" said Camp Phoenix founder Mike Mathis.

Severely burned at the age of 12, Mathis knows the agony of a life as an outcast.

He's made it his life's mission to make sure kids get the skilll need to get through life.

Eight-year-old Emily Moratti learning to stand up for herself when kids call names:

"I just want to ask them if they can't do that anymore," she said. "Because it hurts my feelings."

After 19 summers, the camp has its share of success stories.

Former camper Kevin Kizziah is now a counselor and a volunteer firefighter:

"You're able to be a kid here. So, every time they come back they open us a little bit more," he said.

And no one has opened up more than Austin, winning his daily struggle to feel comfortable in his own skin. He runs around the place like the mayor of Camp Phoenix.? Shirt off, sun glistening off his scarred skin, Austin is winning his daily struggle to feel comfortable in his own skin.

"It let's be me," he said. "I can actually go places and people stare at me and I wouldn't care. That's their problem, not my problem."