(NEW YORK) — Scars scattered across Andrea Pitts’ body may be physical signs of her traumatic experience as an infant, however, for Pitts and for so many burn survivors, emotional scars also linger.
“One day I was looking for something to wear in the closet,” Pitts explained to ABC News’ Good Morning America, “and I was going through all these different clothes I didn’t want to wear them because I didn’t want to show my scars.”
This closet-searching moment would become a soul-searching moment for Pitts, who said embracing her scars has been a lifelong process.
At just 18 months old, a freak accident in the kitchen left her covered with second- and third-degree burns on 30% of her body. For most of her life, she hid her scars. Growing up, she was taunted and teased, but she also struggled to accept herself.
“Not only is it other people,” Pitts explained, “sometimes you can be very unkind to yourself, because it’s a challenge for you to see yourself in the mirror. So it has been a journey for me. I have been going through this journey for 30-plus years now, and I have my good days, I have my bad days, but I keep pushing forward.”
Today, the Nashville, Tennessee resident is not just pushing forward for herself, but she’s bringing others up along the way.
In 2016, Pitts launched her own nonprofit dedicated to embracing those scars, aptly naming it Scars Uncovered.
The name of her nonprofit, Pitts explained, came to her in that very moment when she realized it wasn’t the clothes she was struggling with deciding on, it was accepting her own image.
“At that moment, it hit me … scars uncovered,” Pitts revealed. “I want this to be an organization where burn survivors feel like they can be transparent. They don’t have to hide. They don’t have to not wear what they want to because they’re afraid of what people are thinking or they can’t accept themselves.”
Pitts is helping others embrace their scars and providing vital resources to help those in need through what she calls Boxes of Love, little care packages she delivers directly to burn survivors in hospitals.
“We have care packages that we provide the in-patient [in hospitals] and we always let them know like we are here to support you any way we can,” she said.
Inside the care packages, Pitts includes earplugs, an eye mask, pens, journals, a deck of cards, floss and lotion. But that’s not all.
“I always make sure that I have a letter, personally from me, just to let each survivor know that you’re not in this by yourself,” she said.
“I think my favorite item throughout the box is probably our journals,” Pitts explained. “Just because it just gives them time to really write their thoughts or even if it’s just writing their medical information. They just have some type of outlet to write out their thoughts, how they’re feeling, how the journey is going.”
“They’re very small items that seemed to make a very big impact on the life of patients,” she added.
The gifts leave a lasting impact for burn survivors like John Honeysucker, who received a box from Pitts after ending up in the hospital after an accident. The care package, he said, provided some much-needed comfort.
“When she walked in, it was a breath of fresh air,” Honeysucker said. “Even the products that were in it, some things that I don’t even use, you know, even though I didn’t use playing cards, but guess what, it gave me something to look forward to, because when I tell you you’re sitting there feeling hopeless and helpless … and to receive that box, it made you feel your self-worth really is restored.”
In addition to distributing Boxes of Love, Scars Uncovered has assisted more than 1,000 adult and pediatric patients. Pitts works annually with Nashville firefighters to help burn survivors, and prior to the coronavirus outbreak, would go directly into hospitals in the Nashville area to do those personal drop-offs. She also hosts fundraisers to raise money to purchase the supplies she needs for the care packages.
At the end of the day, for Pitts, it all comes back to love.
“A lot of the times we [judge] ourselves so much on the outward appearance,” Pitts shared in her message to other burn survivors. “And that can be very hurtful sometimes. But remember who you are on the inside and just know that you will get through this one day at a time.”
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