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Delavan youth finds burn camp experience rewarding

October 06, 2010 | 08:42 AM
Delavan — It's hard to believe that 17-year-old Ronald Warrenburg is a burn victim.

The 17-year-old Delavan-Darien High School senior is an avid bowler, takes EMT training at Gateway College, is a teacher's aide at Wileman Elementary School, Delavan, and wants to study dairy farming and hospitality management when he goes to the University of Wisconsin-Madison next year.

He said he's taking EMT training because "I want to be someone's hero."

But Ronald says that one of the most important things he's done over the past nine years is attend the Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth at Camp Timberlee near East Troy.

The camp is sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety, and is for youngsters 7 to 17. This year was his last year as camper.

Still, he's planning to go back again next year as an activities coordinator.

Ronald is one of three or four Walworth County youths who attended the camp this past August. Camp officials said they weren't aware of any Walworth County youngsters at the camp.

Ronald said that's not surprising.

"No one asks where you're from," he said.

Ronald said he suffered first and second degree burns on his foot, on his elbow and on part of his back in a deep-fryer accident on Thanksgiving Day 2001.

Looking at Ronald, it's impossible to see the scars from the accident. And Ronald says that the scars on his back, foot and elbow are pretty much healed over.

The scar on his elbow is just a patch of white skin, which could have been from an operation or a bicycle accident, rather than scalding oil.

But it wasn't.

Burns are a trauma that scar deeper than flesh. They can sear into the memory as well. Ronald says he occasionally flashes back to the accident, especially when he's angry. And then his foot starts to hurt.

"I try not to think about it," Ronald said.

Many of the campers at burn camp are like Ronald, burned, but not so bad that anyone would notice, he said.

Ronald said there are kids at burn camp who tell each other that they were lucky.

"There's things we can do and things we can't do," Ronald said. "It depends on how badly you're burned."

A few, like his friend, Jeff, weren't so lucky. Jeff's burns were so severe, he needs reconstructive surgery.

This past summer, Jeff was happy that he got his new nose.

"He's doing really well," Ronald said. "He's getting more lips now."

The details of Ronald's accident seem almost mundane.

On Thanksgiving Day 2001, Ronald's dad, Lester Warrenburg, checked the temperature of the cooking oil in the deep fryer set up on the family deck in the back yard.

What no one knew at the time was that the thermometer used to monitor the oil temperature was defective, Ronald said. The family later learned that the oil was about twice as hot as the thermometer indicated.

Lester grabbed the defrosted turkey and headed out to the deck. Ronald, then 8, opened the door for him. Ronald said his dad told him to stay inside, but Ronald said he didn't listen and sat on the deck railing, just out of his dad's line of sight.

"When Dad put the turkey into it (the deep fryer), it blew up like a volcano," Ronald said.

The super-heated oil shot high enough into the air that some of it sailed over the family's Delavan home, and into the front yard. The blast knocked Ronald back off the deck, but not before the oil seared into his left elbow, his left foot and on a patch on his back.

Lester, also suffering serious burns to his hands and a foot, scooped up his son and carried him to the shower.

There, Ronald's mother kept a steady flow of water on her son's burns.

Lester then went back outside, grabbed a hose and, with the help of a neighbor, doused some leaves set alight by the boiling oil.

Once that was done, he joined his son in the shower and they waited for the paramedics.

Ronald said the he first went to Lakeland Hospital, where his burns were treated for 24 hours, and then he was released. But the real physical healing, according to his mother, Brenda Warrenburg, happened in the burn clinic in Madison.

Ronald's injuries were serious enough that he stayed out of school all of November and December. But Ronald said he didn't lose a year at school, because teachers sent homework home.

His third-grade friends at St. Andrew's Parish School, Delavan, also sent home get well cards and a beanie baby puppy named Jingle Puff.

He said these are things he will never forget.

Ronald said that it was while he was getting treatment at a Madison burn clinic that the family learned about the burn camp.

"This camp was a great experience," said Ronald's mother, Brenda Warrenburg. "It taught him a lot."

She said the camp also helps families cope, drawing the parents together with the professionals who treated their children from the scene of the accident, to the hospital and to the therapy that followed.

First, the camp helped him learn that fire wasn't always bad, Brenda said.

She said her son also had to deal with the seeing his dad get burned.

"You know how kids are," Brenda said. Children will sometimes blame themselves for accidents. "He was on the deck because when he wasn't supposed to be and something bad happened," she said.

Counseling at the burn camp helped him realize that the accident wasn't his fault, she said.

Despite the trauma of the accident, the Warrenburgs still celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey, Ronald said. But now, they roast the turkey on a grill.

"It's just not Thanksgiving without that turkey," he said.

According to the Wisconsin Alliance for Burn Safety website, the 2011 camp is scheduled for Aug. 13 to 20.

For information on registering a camper or volunteering as a counselor, call (800) 315-0911, 2011.

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