[Masthead] Mostly Cloudy ~ 64°F  
High: 73°F ~ Low: 49°F
Monday, May 2, 2016

Justin Handy recovers from burns, now helps prevent fires

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Justin Handy's 1986 Chevy truck received a surprise custom makeover from Nashville's 4 Wheel Parts.
(Submitted photo)
A parent's nightmare came true for Barbara Newsom on an October afternoon nine years ago. Her son Justin Handy, then 8 years old and a third grader, got off the school bus and went to play with the prize he had nabbed from the countertop of a local restaurant the night before. His intent was to start a fire. With gasoline.

At age 8, Justin Handy sustained third degree burns to 25 percent of his body. This photo was taken in the hospital burn unit on the day after the accident.
(Submitted photo)
"We aren't sure if he spilled gas on him and it caught fire or if the gas can exploded the fire onto him," said Newsom, who says that within 15 minutes of him stepping off the bus that day, the family was rushing to the emergency room.

He was wearing shorts when the accident occurred, and received third degree burns on both his legs and on his stomach --- amounting to 25 percent of his body. He also sustained flash burns to the face.

Rebuilding a life

Justin spent 12 days in the burn unit of a Nashville hospital undergoing treatment and skin grafts. "The skin grafts were taken from his entire back and the only portion of his thigh that was not burned," Newsom said. Some of those initial grafts were rejected by his body, and Justin found himself back in the hospital 10 days later for additional skin grafts.

He spent the next 18 months in physical therapy, wearing pressure garments, and making monthly visits to the burn unit.

"When Justin was released he was almost 10 and the doctors told me that it was a possibility that he may have to have future surgeries, especially if he got very tall, primarily because burned skin does not grow and could lose its elasticity," Newsom said.

Now 17, and a junior at Community High School, Justin is about 6 foot 3, and according to his mother still seems to be growing. He has not had to return to the doctors for further treatment of his injuries. "I wonder just how tall the doctors thought he might be," said Newsom.

In spite of his injuries, Justin has remained active. In this photo, he was wearing compression garments while on a family trip to Kentucky.
(Submitted photo)
Off to camp

The following year Justin began attending summer camps designed especially for young burn survivors -- in particular, Camp Phoenix.

The camp is operated and funded each year by the non-profit Tennessee Firefighters Burn Foundation. "Our goal is to provide a safe outdoor program while promoting healing of the heart and mind," said Director Judy King.

Camp Phoenix is staffed by career and volunteer firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and adult burn survivors and volunteers from the community.

"Firefighters recognize that burn injuries are one of the worst insults that can be inflicted on the human body," said King. "Because of the nature of their jobs, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are often the first to come in contact with those who have suffered burn injuries. They take a personal interest in survivor treatment, rehabilitation, and their return to a normal life."

This was Justin's last summer as a camper. Next summer he plans to attend as a Junior Counselor, and continue to volunteer at the camp in the years ahead.

"I want to help others like I was helped," said Justin. "At Camp Phoenix, there are no scars."


According to his mother, even though Justin always wears shorts, many people never notice his remaining scars. A 7-year old boy who is accustomed to seeing Justin each week at church recently noticed the scars for the first time.

"To this little boy, it was like it had just happened. You could tell that in the look on his face and the tone of his voice when he asked Justin what happened to his legs," said Newsom.

Justin explained that when he was about the same age he was playing with matches and gasoline. "You don't want to do that," he admonished.

"Justin isn't and has never been ashamed of his scars," said Newsom. "They are just a part of who he is."

Justin is the son of Brad Handy and Barbara and Jim Newsom of Unionville. His brothers include Dylan Burks, James and Jonathan Handy.

He plans to remain active as a counselor with Camp Phoenix and Camp Hope, both burn camps for survivors. He plans to attend college and major in criminal justice or a similar field, and will -- his mother suspects -- "most likely become a firefighter."

Learn more

For more information about the Tennessee Firefighters Burn Foundation visit http://tnfbf.org. To nominate a child who would benefit from attending Camp Phoenix, or to volunteer, or contact Judy King at (615) 405-0438 or by e-mail at judy@tnfbf.org.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration:

Related subjects