Survivors now helping others

FAIRMONT – It will be three years on Sunday since Lyle Sathoff, at 16, suffered serious burns when a gas can exploded.

His brother-in-law, Justin Hocus, was only 5 years old when he too suffered serious burns from an exploding gas can.

Sarah Bazey of Minneapolis runs her own construction products company. In 1994, she was in a helicopter flying over a work site when it became ensnared in power lines and crashed. She was the only one of the five people aboard still buckled inside when the helicopter exploded.

“Once you become a burn survivor, you become a member of a fraternity that you didn’t necessarily want to join,” Bazey explained. “Because you have seen and felt pain that most people can’t comprehend.”

She suffered burns on 80 percent of her body, with half of those being third-degree burns that needed donor sites.

“This was extra skin taken from my leg,” Bazey explains as she rolls up her sleeve to show what look like patches on her forearm.

Bazey and Sathoff both were treated at Regions Burn Center in St. Paul. Sathoff spent three months in the hospital, with an additional two years of recovery. Because Bazey lived in the metro area, she was hospitalized for 50 days, but had daily trips to the burn center for about 18 months.

“It takes about 18 months to two years for the skin to calm down,” she explained. “You need therapy every day to eliminate scarring and contractures. The skin goes into a hyper-creation mode, and gets so it doesn’t allow movement. I couldn’t move my arm at anymore than a 90-degree angle, so they had to go in and cut the contracture.”

Hocus, being only 5 when he was burned, lost part of a pinky finger and had to learn how to walk again.

“There are still things we need to watch for,” Hocus said. “With cold, you get frostbite more easily, and because you don’t sweat, you can be in danger of overheating and having heat stroke.”

Bazey found that once her recovery was mostly complete, she was drawn to help other burn survivors.

“I remember I’d just gotten my license back and I was driving to work, when I heard on the radio about a man who was badly burned from jet fuel,” she said. “I remember turning the car around and heading to the hospital, where I met the man’s family in the waiting room.”

Bazey got involved with the Phoenix Society for burn survivors, which was a natural fit.

“I became a SOAR survivor, which stands for Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery,” she said. “I meet with other burn survivors and their families. I’m now the V.P. of the national board.”

Then there was the question for Bazey of her beauty pageant days.

“I did pageants before, but to get into a bikini or a backless dress …” Bazey said. “I really wrestled with competing in the Mrs. International. I woke my husband up at 4:30 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. He told me, ‘If they’re going to judge you on your scars, then don’t do it. But if they’re going to judge you on the way I see you, then go for it.'”

Bazey did go for it. She now has only six weeks left in her reign as Mrs. Minnesota International. During that time, she has focused on helping burn survivors and burn awareness.

“We’ve traveled to Asia, Australia,” she said.

She recalled an incident when she held the hand of a girl who was having healthy skin harvested for a skin graft, and there was no pain medication.

“That’s the most painful part right there,” Sathoff said.

During Sathoff’s time at Regions Burn Center, he was given a SOAR survivor to turn to for support, but Sathoff was not open to the idea at first.

“It took two or three times before I would talk to her,” he admitted. “Besides Justin, I didn’t know anyone who’d been burned. I really felt alone and didn’t think anyone could talk or relate to me.”

But Sathoff did eventually open up.

“It was huge,” he said. “Like Sarah, I found that I wanted to give back, but how?”

That answer came when Sathoff began racing again.

“It was right in front of my face with the race car,” he said. “I contacted the Phoenix Society, and got permission to put the logo on my racing car, and it has people asking what it’s about.”

One barrier Sathoff needed time to face was going to the friend’s house where he suffered his injuries.

“It took a while to face that spot,” he said. “But once I did, it was a huge stepping stone for me.”

Another step that needed to be taken by Sathoff and Hocus was going back to school.

“I was told to take a stare as an unanswered question,” Sathoff said. “That stuck with me.”

“School was hard,” admitted Hocus. “I got stared at. I was off alone a lot. But what I learned was people, like kids, just stare because they’re curious. So I learned that if you’re curious, just ask.”