As a child, Andrea Pitts was severely burned. As an adult, she provides “Boxes of Love” to burn patients.
A few gifts and an encouraging note from somebody who's been thereSeptember 16, 2019
Andrea Pitts drops off a Box of Love to Dora Mann, 65, of Franklin, Tennessee. Mann was admitted to the Vanderbilt Regional Burn Center after being burned by scalding hot water while cooking — an injury similar to the one Pitts suffered as a child. Photo by John Russell
When she was only 18 months old, Andrea Pitts’ life changed forever.
She was toddling in the kitchen while her mother was cooking a pot of beans. As her mother turned away for an instant, Pitts pulled the pot off the stove, spilling the scalding contents and liquid onto her body.
Her terrified mother called for medical help, and Pitts’ father, who wasn’t home at the time, responded to the frantic summons by rushing home to find his daughter had already been taken to the hospital.
At that time, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Burn Unit was in the Round Wing and Pitts spent several weeks undergoing treatment for first, second and third degree burns to her face, neck, chest, arms and a foot — over 30% of her body.
“The only memory I have from the time of my initial injury is I had to get hundreds of steroid shots in my neck to flatten that surface,” she said. “I vaguely remember the pain and not wanting to do it, because it hurt so much.”
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting of my scars being a part of who I am and my life journey. I can’t change what has happened to me, but I can use my experience to bless others.”
She had five surgeries to deal with the burns and their aftermath, and the burns left lasting marks on her body.
And beyond the visible scars, Pitts also learned about the internal marks burns can leave.
“You can see the outside scars, but there’s usually inside scars — emotional and psychological scars that you have to deal with as a burn survivor and being looked at as different,” Pitts said.
“Many are not used to seeing burn injuries and often stare. It can take a psychological toll on you. One of the biggest things is you must learn to accept yourself and deal with your scars every day externally and internally. It’s a growing process and a journey that I’m still going through.”
Part of that journey is to help other burn patients in a tangible way, to advocate for others healing from burn injuries.
Pitts, who has both an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Middle Tennessee State University, works in the field of health care administration, so it was natural for her to ask what burn patients need and figure out a way to help provide those things.
Pitts founded Scars Uncovered, non-profit organization about five years ago to offer tangible support to burn survivors and their families.
Now, years after her recovery, she visits VUMC’s Regional Burn Unit monthly to deliver packages for patients and their families. She quietly drops her gifts off behind the counter of the nurses’ station.
She calls the packages “Boxes of Love,” and though recipients may never meet her face-to-face, they benefit from the thought she puts in each box filled with items such as mints and lip balm, as well as an encouraging note letting them know they are not alone in their healing process.
“Those who work in the burn unit are monumental in making my mission successful. They are all friendly and accepting of what we are doing.”
Scars Uncovered also provides burn survivors with specialized burn garments and helps with other needs.
“I want [people who receive the boxes] to know that while I’m not physically there with them they are always in my thoughts and prayers,” Pitts said.
“Those who work in the burn unit are monumental in making my mission successful. They are all friendly and accepting of what we are doing,” Pitts said. “It’s good to work with them and have the communication we need to benefit the patients.”
Those who deliver the Boxes of Love to burn patients say Pitts’ thoughtfulness makes an impact.
“I was in the burn unit one day and the patient I talked with had just received one of the Scars Uncovered Boxes of Love and he really appreciated it,” a volunteer and burn survivor said. “I’ve seen the boxes all over the unit and they really make a difference to the people who get them.”
Running Scars Uncovered is a large part of Pitts’ healing process.
“You have your good days and bad days,” Pitts said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting of my scars being a part of who I am and my life journey. I can’t change what has happened to me, but I can use my experience to bless others. Scars Uncovered is an outlet for me to do this.”
Pitts has also been able to arrange for Boxes of Love to be distributed at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Ohio, which also provided care to her when she was a child.
“I’ve always loved helping people so I wanted to make sure whatever I do, I could do on a consistent basis and it would be a blessing to others and impacts their lives,” Pitts said.
“When I hear from burn survivors that a small care package or a compression garment has helped so much, it continues to drive me. It’s a fulfillment to know I’m making an impact on people’s lives.”