Stasi Manser has big brown eyes, thick curly hair and a welcoming charisma. She has an openness and that breaks down barriers, something that has come in handy with her recent volunteer work with the British Columbia Professional Firefighters Burn Fund
When Manser was five years old she suffered severe burns on over 95 per cent of her body.
The oldest child of four, Manser was an independent girl who heard her baby sister cry and wanted to warm up her bottle. With precocious ambition, she thought it would also be an opportune time to make herself some hot chocolate before her mom woke up and told her no.
Manser climbed up on a chair to reach for cocoa in the cupboard, dangling her nightgown right over the stove. The gown caught fire, and so did Manser.
She was rushed to the nearest hospital, the Fort Macleod health centre, where the doctors told her she would not survive. She was moved to larger hospitals in Lethbridge, Alta. and Calgary and would be in hospital for nearly a year before she was released.
During this time, there were no specialty burn wards available to her.
“At the time I was kept in the maternity ward, since it was the most sterile,” Manser said.
Manser received sponsorship from the Shriners to recieve burn treatment in Boston, and continued to be in hospital to have an innumerable amount of surgeries.
Throughout, her mother advocated for Manser to have a normal life, making sure she went to regular school when she could and that she continued to work on the farm and join 4H clubs.
Still, as Manser transferred to adulthood she felt frustrated about not having regular access to information and resources.
“It was discouraging, because there was no support,” Manser said. “At one point I’d just had enough.”
Manser decided she was done with surgeries and just wanted to live her life. She was an ambitious overachiever, always striving to do more than anyone else to waive away the doubts which she thought her scars would prompt in other people.
She began a successful career in marketing and also raised a family, having two children and later on a grandchild, eventually finding her way to Victoria.
It wasn’t until she began feeling anxiety in her early fifties that she decided to reach out to the Burn Fund.
“It was just something inside me, I don’t know what it was, but it told me I needed to pay attention,” Manser said.
The Burn Fund offered Manser resources and social opportunities; soon she went to her first social event, a cooking class, and a week later she found herself at an adult burn survivor conference in Rhode Island.
“It was incredibly healing,” Manser said. “It was a way for me to acknowledge parts of myself I’d abandoned.”
Manser described healing from her experience as three-fold: the surgeries, the emotional healing, and the moving on.
“I’d done the surgeries, I’d moved on, but I never dealt with the touch-feely stuff,” she said.
Since then she’s become an advocate for adult burn survivors, participating in ongoing firefighter events and fundraisers and helping to organize speakers at burn-related conferences.
Throughout this process Manser has marvelled at the resources available to people now, including the Firefighter’s Burn House, located just outside the Royal Jubilee Hospital.
“Had I been burned in this time, it would have been such a different experience,” Manser said.
The most recent fundraiser she’s advocating for is the Hometown Heroes Lottery. Hometown Heroes Lottery ticket purchases raise funds for Burn Fund programs, including the annual Burn Camp for young burn survivors. It also supports the Victoria General Hospital (VGH) & UBC Hospital Foundation, raising essential funds for specialized adult health services and research at VGH and UBC Hospital, GF Strong Rehab Centre, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and Vancouver Community Health Services for all British Columbians.
“The Burn Fund is just absolutely incredible,” Manser said. “This is different, this is the core of healing.”