Justin was just 11 months old in the winter of 1998 when he sustained a serious burn on his hand from a humidifier hidden behind the sofa. “I remember that scream to this day,” his father Ed recalled emotionally. He and wife Cheryl took Justin to an Akron, Ohio pediatric hospital, where a specialist was brought to treat the boy’s injury. The family had just purchased a new home, and the $32,000 out-of-network medical bill was challenging. Knowing Justin would need further surgeries weighed on Ed and Cheryl.
The next summer, the family visited a local fair. Northern Ohio is as hot in the summer as it is frigid in the winter, so when they came upon a trailer marked, “Air Conditioned Exhibit” they ducked in. The exhibit displayed Shriners memorabilia, a subject with which Ed was familiar, coming from a long line of Masons. As they browsed and cooled off, one of the Shriners said, “Do you know any children with burns?” Needless to say, they were stunned by the coincidence but learned more about the Cincinnati hospital that specialized in pediatric burn treatment. Later, Ed and Cheryl talked. “I said to Cheryl, ‘I think it’s for people who have no money,’” Ed said of Shriners Hospitals. But their first visit to Shriners Hospitals for Children–Cincinnati convinced them it was exactly where Justin belonged.
The evening they arrived at the hospital, the family was given a tour. The sounds of happy children playing in the Child Life area got their attention. Looking in, the sight of patients with severe scarring from large burns took Ed by surprise. He worried that they would be taking resources from those more in need, and haltingly said, “We don’t belong here…” The nurse responded, “You love your son, don’t you? Don’t you want the best care for him?” The answer was obvious, and Justin was scheduled for surgery.
Ed and Cheryl were stunned by the superior skill and expertise in pediatric skin grafting in contrast to their first experience. Justin’s surgery not only advanced his progress, it vastly improved the results of his initial treatment. “It looked like art!” Cheryl commented about the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital surgeon’s delicate handiwork.
Today, Justin is a tall, 20-year-old student and football player at Youngstown State University, and recently had his last of five surgeries. Both he and his family have become cheerleaders for Shriners Hospitals, recommending them friends, families and even strangers in need of the superior skill and care. Justin shared a conversation he had with one of his coaches recently. “He asked me why I didn’t have the surgery somewhere local,” Justin recalled. ”I said, ‘You don’t understand. Cincinnati Shriners Hospital is the best burn hospital in the world– period. I’ve been going there since I was one, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”