August 3, 2008 - 11:14PM
Charlie Hall, Sun Journal Staff for more on the roadruners go www.newbernsj.com/news/one_41423___article.html/children_trip.html
Like many newcomers to the New Bern area, Michelle and John didn't know much about the Sudan Shriners when they moved here from San Francisco eight years ago. New Bern is home to the 6,500-member fraternal organization best known for its work with crippled and burned children.
That changed three years ago when the couple's then 3-year-old son Ian was playing in the yard and jumped into a leaf-burning fire pit that had been used the day before.
He was wearing shoes and quickly got one foot out of the smoldering coals, but a burning ember lodged in the shoe of his left foot.
Next-door neighbor Katy, a retired military hospital corpsman, initially dressed the wound and the youngster was taken to the hospital.
The wound was a third-degree burn, which required a skin graft, a procedure that was to be performed at the N.C. Burn Center in Chapel Hill. Because of Ian's age, the parents were told that if not properly treated, the youngster could end up lame.
With the surgery planned, Michelle's mother suggested they contact the Sudan Shriners.
The Sudan Roadrunners, the Shriners volunteer driving team for injured children, took father and son to Cincinnati, site of one of the Shrine's burn centers.
John was amazed to find that a group such as the Shriners would come to a stranger's aid, and for free.
Doctors examined the child and surgery was planned for the next day. They stayed nine days so that Ian could be monitored.
"They were very professional and I was surprised at the attention and personal care," John recalled. "It is a kid's place."
While Ian's injury could have left him crippled, it was not the worst that his father saw during their stay.
"I met fathers who had been going there for 10 years," he said. Some of the badly burned children were suffering injuries over most of their bodies, and requiring extensive skin grafts over a period of years.
John said one source came to light as a cause of most of the burns received by the children - gasoline.
His own son had to return to the hospital for several follow-up treatments, augmented by daily massage treatments at home.
In May, Ian visited a clinic in Charlotte and is not scheduled for another checkup for several years.
The family remains thankful for the assistance and kindness from the Shriners that Michelle admits she used to know only as "those men with the funny red hats (fezzes)."
Ian proudly shows his foot, where the burned area on the side of his ankle has healed.
He walks without pain or limp and plays baseball and rides his bicycle.
"We are so thankful to the Shriners," said his mother.