Homewood burn victim guides others through the mental healing process: ‘It’s never over’

Even after she began to recover from second- and third-degree burns suffered in a cooking fire in the kitchen of her Homewood home, Janean Dyson had other injuries that were not so apparent to others.

The condominium she’s in doesn’t have fire sprinklers and, trying to protect her sister in the Nov. 20, 2019 grease fire, Dyson grabbed baking soda and flour to extinguish the flames.

As a result, she was severely burned on her face, neck, hands and arms, spending 2½ weeks in the Loyola University Medical Center Burn Unit.

Even after Dyson’s burns healed, deeper scars remained.

“It’s never over when your burn injuries are over,” she said. “Then you’re dealing with the psychological effects of the trauma.”

Dyson volunteers as a counselor at the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance’s “Camp I Am Me” summer camp near Wisconsin for burn injured children and is active with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and its Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery peer program. Through the recovery program, she participates in group therapy sessions at Loyola University Medical Center.

It was from talking with other burn survivors that she was able to “navigate the mental and social aspects of being a burn survivor.

The 46-year-old said “unless you actually have been a burn survivor, you don’t know what it’s like. Unless you’ve been through it you don’t know the hurt.”

Dyson had to go through extensive therapy to learn how to write. She is right-handed and that hand and arm were severely burned and suffered nerve damage, and skin taken from her thighs was used as grafts as part of her recovery.

Dyson said that she became introverted and felt lonely, and it did not help her mental state when the COVID-19 pandemic kept her shut in.

“I became kind of a hermit,” she said.

She was able to attend a meeting of burn survivors before the pandemic and shelter-in-place directive, and kept in touch with them during the COVID-19 shutdown and through Zoom sessions.

Along with helping others in their recovery process, Dyson has become a spokesperson for a fire sprinkler education and awareness campaign through the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. She’s featured in educational flyers and public service announcement videos detailing her story as well as the benefits of fire sprinklers.

The Illinois House and Senate recently adopted a resolution recognizing May 12-18 as Home Fire Sprinkler Week in Illinois, in conjunction with an annual national awareness campaign from the nonprofit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires, accounting for nearly half of all home fires in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Dyson, an administrative assistant and in retail, said it took a few years before she felt some normalcy return to her life. There are occasional flashbacks and “certain things will trigger them.”

She won’t sit around a bonfire unless a firefighter is tending it, and even the flame from a lighter can frighten her.

“There are things you are hyper aware of now,” Dyson said.

Even her own kitchen was a frightening place, she said.

“For months I would only go into the kitchen to get coffee,” Dyson said, and even now it is a rarity for her to cook.

“Anything fried, uh-uh, nope,” she said. “I think I made some pasta once.”

Dyson said she is a strong supporter of group therapy.

“I’m an advocate for group therapy because it helps navigate through life,” she said.

“There is life after a burn,” she said. “The recovery happens if your own time, and everybody’s healing journey is different.”