What 10,000 Burn Survivors Have Taught Me about Human Nature

By Celia Belt

About the author: Bandera, Texas-based Celia LaVon Belt is a remarkable woman with an extraordinary story of beating the odds.  A burn and abuse survivor, she underwent thirty-one surgeries before the age of nine, and would be subjected to dozens more later on.  “They brought in a priest to read me last rites,” she recalls.

Remarkably, she’s still here and able to share what she’s learned over a lifetime that almost never was.  Belt, a successful entrepreneur and founder of The Moonlight Fund, an award-winning non-profit organization for burn survivors and their families, has never shied away from challenges.  “In the twenty years since its founding, we’ve touched the lives of 10,000 burn survivors and their families.”

Belt recently received the Distinguished Citizen Medal from the Daughters of the American Revolution for the work she’s done with wounded vets. In addition to ministering to the emotional, financial, and physical needs of burn survivors, Belt’s organization is busy addressing systemic issues as well, lobbying state and federal lawmakers to increase benefits for burn survivors.

Celia Belt, a burn survivor, is the founder of the award-winning Moonlight Fund Inc., a non-profit organization that provides financial and emotional assistance to burn survivors and their families.  She is the author of Remarkably Intact: Angels Are No Strangers to Chains (Broer Books, paper, $18.95).  For more information, visit: www.remarkablyintact.com.

My journey caring for burn survivors began in 1998. After some time volunteering on the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, I realized the need for nonprofit support for burn survivors and their families. It was a humble gesture, cofounding Moonlight Fund. I had no desire to change lives, help thousands, or make it my life’s mission. I was leading a comfortable life and truly was not in need of another “project.” Yet, here I am, twenty-one years later, living and breathing this life’s work of mine.

Before founding the Fund, I had a career, material possessions, and status, all of which were important to me. I never dreamed of a life of servitude, nor did I desire it. My work with burn survivors and their families has changed me and those in my life for the better. It has not been an easy road, watching the pain and suffering of so many, particularly during the war. My heart broke repeatedly and there were many days I thought of quitting.  This mission was more than I could bear, and I was sure it would soon break me.  I have also seen miracles and been a part of many remarkable journeys with these burn survivors, whom I now refer to as “my people.”

My seven-day work weeks (unpaid) are the most fulfilling of my life. I do this to raise the necessary funds to help these souls regain some semblance of life. Although Moonlight Fund is a blessing to many, I can’t help but feel personally blessed by this work I do. It’s not just the money they require; they need someone to listen, to care, and a hug at the end of the day. The families are also in need and have become like family to me, something I never expected to happen, yet, I am grateful to have these souls in my life for they have shown me how to live, with true humility.

I have come to realize that the human spirit is much stronger than what many of us may believe. We run through our lives not taking the time to truly enjoy the moment, because we have never been faced with the gut-wrenching thought that the next moment might not come to us. The will to live, to survive and thrive—against all odds—is a remarkable thing to watch and something that is not quick to leave your heart or your mind. I’ve stood by and heard many a doctor state, “He won’t make it, or, it won’t be long,” only to have these people in my life today, as alive and active as you and I. They bravely go out in public, scars bared for all to see, and enjoy this life that was left to them.  And yes, it takes bravery to be a burn survivor, it takes nerves of steel and some backbone to take those first steps out in public and accept the stares of others. Many have stood at the doorway of death, expecting to embrace Valhalla and fully realize, more than the rest of us, what a blessing each and every day we have on this earth truly is. I see the joy in their eyes and the thankfulness in their hearts, for they know, because they live as survivors.  Looking upon them, the word warrior often comes to mind.


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