Sense of purpose comes from devastating past
by Deborah Stone
At 10 years old, while playing with a candle, Shirley Hansen's nightgown caught on fire and before all the flames could be extinguished, 52 percent of her body had been seriously burned.
The year was 1957, before flame retardant pajamas were law and prior to the advances in plastic and reconstructive surgery that currently aid burn victims in their recovery. In addition, support services for burn survivors and their families were minimal to nonexistent.
Hansen underwent numerous surgeries in the following years, while learning to live with the trauma that had occurred. She had to deal with the cruel taunts of other children and the feeling of always being self-conscious about her body.
"I never wanted to go swimming," explains Hansen. "I tried to cover my body as much as possible. The only good thing was that the burn scars stopped just at my jawbone, so my face was not disfigured in any way. But in the summer, when everyone wore tank tops or sleeveless tops, I really felt too self conscious to expose myself like that."
Her lifelong recovery as a burn survivor was a slow process, but now at 53, Hansen feels that she has learned much from her physically and emotionally painful experience.
She says, "I realized that if someone really loves you, they love you for who you are on the inside. It took me way until my adult years to learn this. Even though I had a family and friends to support me, it still took me many years to eventually realize the truth to this statement."
Recently relocated to Lake Forest Park, Hansen, a first time grandmother, feels her life is more peaceful now and she believes she has found purpose from a devastating past.
A co-founder of a burn survivor and fire prevention organization in San Francisco, she is currently on the Board of Directors of the Northwest Burn Foundation, a non-profit organization that assists burn survivors and their families with programs free of charge. She has just been asked to take the position of vice president, which will carry her to the role of president in 2003.
"I decided to turn around bad things to make them good," comments Hansen. "If I can help one other burn person feel good about him or herself, then I am in essence, paying it forward and snowballing good deeds. I know first hand the importance of support and when something traumatic happens to you, you need all the support you can get. It's also important to be able to communicate with others who have been in the same situation.
"When I was young, I never knew other burn survivors and so I wasn't able to talk to people who could really understand the trauma I had been through. There weren't any special programs or camps for burn victims like they have today. I would have loved to go to a summer camp with other burn survivors and play like a normal child, running around in T-shirts and shorts and going swimming.
"Each summer the Northwest Burn Foundation sponsors a camp for a week and pays for almost 100 children to attend. This type of program is so important."
With a desire to help others, as well as an interest in skin healing products, Hansen has recently teamed up with her daughter Julie Kott, of Shoreline, to form a business called SkinSense.
A percentage of the profits from the company will be donated each year to the Northwest Burn Foundation to support the organization's summer camp program and other services such as providing free cosmetic corrective make-up sessions for those burn survivors with facial scars and disfigurements. SkinSense will promote Pure Swiss Collagen Fluid, a product formulated by research scientists in conjunction with European skin specialists.
According to Hansen, a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland has manufactured Pure Swiss Collagen Fluid for 12 years. It is now being marketed as a cosmetic product and Hansen and her daughter are the Northwest reps.
The mother-daughter team works well together and complements each other's strengths. Kott's experience has been in pharmaceutical sales and her mother has worked in the marketing field for many years. "This is a great opportunity for us to work together," says Kott. "I have such respect for my Mom. I've grown up watching her grow more comfortable with herself and hearing about the problems she faced in her teen years. She's always been open with me about things, both the positives and negatives. She's taken her pain and experience and used it to help others and I feel she is a great role model and a real inspiration."
For more information about SkinSense and its product, call (206) 363-7546 or visit the company's Web site at www.skinsenseseattle.com.