Edmonton-area teen returns from unique camp for burn victims

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WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton-area teen Deeanna Cowan was handpicked for a unique camp south of the border for burn victims. Julia Wong has more on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – Oct 14, 2018

An Ardrossan teenager has returned from a once-in-a-lifetime experience at an international camp for burn victims, and she was just one of three Canadians who were picked to go.

Deeanna Cowan, 15, was the only Alberta representative at the International Burn Camp, which was held in Washington D.C. last week and is run by the International Association of Fire Fighters Foundation.

READ MORE: Alberta photography project highlights beauty in scars

“I met some incredible friends who I hope to keep [for] a long time,” Deeanna said.

Deeanna was seven years old and out snowmobiling with her family when she got the cold burn that would affect the rest of her life.

“I was rushed to put my snowpant over my boot properly. On the way back, it dropped to minus 31C. My snowpants must have crawled up my leg a little bit. It was cold so my skin was totally exposed,” she said.

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It was only the next day that Deeanna and her family discovered blisters covering her leg; she was rushed to the hospital. There, her blisters were drained but they kept re-appearing. Eventually the cold burn became visible and a scar was left on Deeanna’s leg.

Over the years, she has had nine surgeries, one fat injection and three laser operations to reduce the scarring.

READ MORE: ‘I am thankful that I am alive:’ Alberta teen burn survivor

GALLERY: Images of Deeanna Cowan’s burn and healing progress. Warning: Some of the images may be disturbing. 

Deeanna Cowan with her album of photos showing the progress of her burn's healing.
Deeanna Cowan in in the hospital at age 7.
Deeanna Cowan's burn blistering.
Deeanna Cowan's burn blistering.
Deeanna Cowan's burn as it healed.
Deeanna Cowan's burn reacting to stitches.
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Deeanna Cowan's burn as it healed.
Deeanna Cowan's burn now in 2018.
Deeanna Cowan at the International Burn Camp in Washington D.C. Her burn can be seen on the bottom of her right leg. Courtesy: Deeanna Cowan

While Deeanna can’t remember much of what happened at that age, she said it has been hard for her to cope with being a burn victim.

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“Every time I looked down at my leg, I saw this big scar that I knew that I would have the rest of my life,” she said.

“Even though mine was not a hot burn, I’m still a burn victim with a cold burn. Not a lot of people that I know have it. It has affected who I am.”

“It’s impacted how I see myself sometimes. When you try to look down at your leg and wish that what happens if it was never there.”

The teenager has attended the Alberta Fire Fighter Burn Camp ever since she got her cold burn.

“Knowing that I’m not alone and that some other people have experienced more traumatic things, less traumatic things. I know I can just open up to them. I can be myself,” she said.

WATCH: Researchers at the University of Toronto have come up with a new technology that could revolutionize treatment for burn victims. It’s a handheld, skin printer that replicates a patient’s own tissue. Mike Le Couteur reports.

Click to play video: 'Skin printer could help heal burn victims' Skin printer could help heal burn victims
Skin printer could help heal burn victims – May 27, 2018

Then in August, she learned she had been nominated for the International Burn Camp.

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“I was very overwhelmed, surprised. All these emotions really hit me to know that I’d been recognized and just for my story and who I am,” she said.

Deeanna Cowan at George Washington’s Mount Vernon during the International Burn Camp. Courtesy: Deeanna Cowan

During the camp, Deeanna visited the sites, such as Pentagon Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, the White House and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and participated in camp activities like rope courses and sharing circles.

READ MORE: Toronto researchers develop handheld machine that can print skin

“I met some incredible people. As I was hanging out with those people, I felt stronger day by day,” she said.

“I grew to be a better person day by day. I did feel, going to this camp, I really learned who I actually was. I really found myself within my burn.”

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Mother Crystal said she’s seen the change in Deeanna after her trip to the international burn camp.

“The excitement and the opportunity she was given and being excited to explore and be open-minded to other kids, and realizing there’s still a whole group of other kids out there who are facing these situations, their burns, their scars,” Crystal said.

Deeanna Cowan stands in front of a sign to the entrance of the Pentagon Memorial. The 14-year-old was a camper at the International Burn Camp last week. Courtesy/Deeanna Cowan

Crystal said there may be a few more surgeries and procedures on the scar in Deeanna’s future, but she’s proud of her little girl who has transformed into a confident young woman.

“Every year she grew older, she’s faced it. She comes to terms with it that much easier and better,” Crystal said.

“It’s amazing to see that she’s able to look at this as part of her now and we will deal with it in the best possible way we can.”

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Deeanna Cowan at the National Aquarium during the International Burn Camp. Courtesy/Deeanna Cowan

While there are times Deeanna wishes she never got her burn, it’s clear she wouldn’t be who she was without it.

“The impact it’s had on me makes me appreciate it. It makes me love my scar. It makes me love me.”

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