I have emerged from this lifelong lesson full of empathy and strength. This accident could have halted my life, instead it has enabled me to find the “silver lining” in even the worst of circumstances. Since 1998, I have been devoted to helping burn survivors deal with their accidents, and return to productive lives. My time spent volunteering on the Brooke Army Medical Center Burn Unit serves as a constant reminder to me that my accident had a very special purpose, lest I forget.
My professional life was full of rewards, and I credit a large portion of that success to the fortitude born out of my experience. Personally my life is very busy and fulfilling. The mother of three children, life is good, and a little bit crazy some days!
My time spent with patients and families on the unit has led to the growth and development of several burn support programs, including the Moonlight Fund. There are many needs to be met, and I hope that in my lifetime we will grow to meet some of those needs, and in turn pass on the desire for benevolence to others who will assist in this mission.
I enjoy speaking to groups about the needs of burn survivors. Please contact DOH Marketing at email@example.com if you’d like me to speak at any occasion. – Celia Belt, Founder
On a sunny November afternoon, I finished my pre-flight inspection and hopped into the cockpit of my custom-built EDGE 450 aerobatics monoplane. The sky had never seemed bluer, the hum of the engine as I took off, never sweeter. I headed into an upside-down half outside loop with a two-point roll followed by a snap roll. Sheer exhilaration surged through me as I shot skyward. What was that? A damp and acrid fluid soaked my arms and chest. Fuel! Ruptured fuel tank! As I righted the plane, the cockpit filled with flames. Beating at my burning clothes with one hand, I switched off fuel, mags, master switch, and dropped into a nosedive. If the wind doesn’t put this out fast I’ll be too low to jump! Plunging, I opened the canopy and released the seat belts. Groping for the D-ring on my parachute, I ejected at 400 feet. Where’s that ring? The Velcro that should have held it to my chest had burned away. I was free-falling. Then my fingers closed on the ripcord. I yanked it and felt my body hoisted upward. The ground quickly closed in, knocking the wind out of me. I tugged off the melted mass that had been my goggles and looked down. The fire was out, but my arms were absolutely white. I’m burned bad. My lovely plane was a smoking tangle of metal. I wrestled out of my chute and started walking. I walked the whole way to the airfield, three-quarters of a mile, before the pain began. I remember the helicopter trip, being wheeled into the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center. The medical team cut away what was left of my clothes. Then a mask closed over my nose and mouth and I sank into blackness. That first pain-racked week at B.A.M.C. burn unit was a battle simply for survival. Once I was stabilized, the grafting began, using unburned skin from my back, thighs, and scalp. During two lengthy operations the grafts were secured with more than 3,000 staples through my flesh. Here I was, the self-made guy, lying helpless in a hospital bed. How much more torture could I endure? The physical therapy to stretch the healing skin was agony, but the worst was the scrub baths – two a day. The nurses were merciless in their mission to rub every inch of my flesh raw. No screaming or pleading would sway them, and as the hour approached I’d actually cry in dread. Gritting my teeth as the brutal brush scoured away, I’d think, I don’t even have say-so over my own skin. The nurse lifted me back onto my bed. Each touch, even the breeze he stirred as he left, brought tears to my eyes. After a month in the hospital I was released to continue my recovery. With me came a whole new orientation. Physical & occupational therapies were grueling and I, the self-reliant guy, was learning another kind of reliance.
Today I can hide the scarring except on my hands. I’m not sorry it shows. It’s a reminder of other hands with scars on them. Henry currently lives in the Fort Worth area with his wife Trish and their five children.
*Henry stays busy running multiple companies including: Coffeen Management – Automotive Consulting; Jet Link – Aircraft Management; Lone Star Yamaha; and GI Tax – Tax Service. Henry has returned to his love of flying and pilots his personal jet for business & pleasure. Henry’s legacy of giving to those less fortunate is a founding principle of Moonlight Fund.
On July 28, 2000, Benjamin Scott Jones was injured in a car accident in Caldwell, Texas. He suffered burns over 45% of his body and was air lifted to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He lived on the Burn Unit in critical condition for 36 days. On September 1, 2000, he passed away from pneumonia. Ben was 22 years old, a student at the University of Houston and a decorated ROTC Cadet in the University of Houston Cougar Battalion.
Moonlight Fund’s founding efforts were assisted by Ben’s parents, Scott & Doris Jones, and uncle, Chuck Jones. We are grateful to them for their support of Moonlight Fund.