For nine weeks, Wayne Vinson and his family have kept vigil at a Georgia burn center for his son, Wayne Vinson II.
Wayne was the most severely burned of four workers injured May 19 at the Resolute Forest Products plant – formerly called Bowater – in eastern York County along the Catawba River.
The men were burned when a pipe burst, spraying each with sodium hydroxide, York County emergency officials said after the incident. The chemical, known as “white liquor,” is used to soften wood fibers
Wayne – himself the father of two kids who has worked at the paper mill for 15 years – was burned over 70 percent of his body, his father said.
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He has received more than 25 blood transfusions and remains in intensive care at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital of Augusta.
All of what the family has seen – Vinson’s mother and wife have been at his side the whole time, too – has shaken the older Vinson but has made his commitment even more resolute.
While all tend to Wayne, the Vinsons have seen so many people injured with burns – and each has seen the “grip of terror” on the faces of every family there.
Some who are burned, Vinson said, plainly: “Well, some just didn’t make it.”
Still, many do make it.
So Vinson, himself retired from Bowater, is asking the community to do something not just for his son, but every person and family who has to go through the awful experience of burns and recovery.
Vinson is encouraging everyone to stop for 10 minutes on Sunday and pray for all burn victims and their families – for every 16-year-old kid like the one down the hall at the burn center, for every military veteran burned in combat bombings.
“It doesn’t matter who these people are, where they come from, what they look like,” Vinson said. “They all go through this.”
But prayer, Vinson said, can work. It can help.
“I have seen it happen,” he said. “The power of prayer.”
Wayne’s wife, Cynthia, said the burn center has been treating a baby just a year old who was burned over 90 percent of the tiny body.
“There are people here of all ages, families of all backgrounds, and in the waiting room and in the hallway we all root for each other,” Cynthia said. “When somebody leaves intensive care, it is a victory for everybody.
“Nobody there ever thought they wanted a ‘routine’ life before, but when this happens, your life is not routine again. You wish you had routine.”
The Vinsons have taken an apartment in Augusta, and spend hour-long shifts, at least four each day, at the hospital during visiting hours in the special burn unit for the patients who are hurt the worst.
Wayne has undergone many surgeries and skin grafts requiring a special medical procedure done in Boston that will manufacture skin from his skin cells.
“Wayne has been unconscious the whole time,” Cynthia Vinson said, “but the nurses here tell me he can hear me, so I talk to him, and I sing to him.”
Cynthia talks and sings and prays, because that is what wives do.
“I know he can hear me,” Cynthia said. “I know he knows we are here for him. I know he hears those prayers.”
The road to recovery will be long and there will be many skin grafts and other procedures ahead. In the plain-speak of hospitals that is so hard to hear, Wayne remains in critical condition, a burn center spokesperson said Wednesday.
Cynthia said it could be October before her husband leaves the hospital.
Yet in the face of such terrible injuries, the help and prayers that have enveloped the Vinsons over the past nine weeks have been far too many to count.
The older Vinson’s home church, First Baptist Church of Rock Hill, has had many people – including senior pastor, the Rev. Steve Hogg – drive the four- to five-hour round-trip to sit with the family and offer help and prayer.
“That is what church families do, help,” said Tom Rinehart, pastoral staff administrator at First Baptist. North Rock Hill Church and other churches also have helped, and the prayer lists have been many.
“I believe in those prayers – we all do,” said the older Vinson.
Resolute employees have visited the burn center and have been very gracious, Vinson said.
Many of teachers and staff members at Fort Mill High School, where Cynthia teaches business classes, also have been mainstays of assistance and prayer.
One of those who has helped has been Karin McKemey, whose son Connor was burned in 2008 in an incident that also required months of treatment at the Augusta burn center and a long recovery.
“At Fort Mill, this is what we do when someone in our family has something happen,” said Fort Mill High Principal Dee Christopher. “It is how we respond to life – with all the help we can offer.”
The three other employees burned in May are back to work at the paper mill, said Debbie Johnston, Resolute’s corporate spokeswoman. The two who spent time at a Winston-Salem, N.C., burn center remain on light duty, Johnston said.
Resolute’s internal investigation into the incident is not complete, Johnston said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration inquiry into what happened also is continuing, said Lesia Kudelka, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
On Tuesday, the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas held a blood drive at the plant, where 103 units were collected from plant employees and retirees to be sent to the burn center to assist not just Wayne, but all patients. A public blood drive is also upcoming, Cynthia said.
“We have seen first-hand that the need for blood at these centers never ends,” she said.
The other thing that never ends, say Wayne’s wife and father, is the need for those prayers.
Wayne 14-year-old son, Wayne Vinson III, and daughter Noelle, just 4, need those prayers, too.
“Every prayer is heard,” Cynthia said. “Wayne hears them. Every person there at the burn center does.”