Monday, September 19, 2011

J.R. Martinez, a former soldier and burn survivor, laces up his dancing shoes to be on "Dancing With The Stars"

From The Grand Rapids Press:

ROCKFORD, Mich. — Brien Dews of Rockford hopes people will be inspired by more than killer moves when the “Dancing with the Stars” season premiere kicks off tonight.

One of the celebrity dancers — J.R. Martinez — a former soldier, burn survivor and actor on “All My Children,” is lacing up his dance shoes for a shot at winning the title with partner Karina Smirnoff.

For Dews, Martinez’s dancing debut is showcasing how burn survivors keep living despite their life-changing injuries.

“That is what J.R. is showing, especially being such a public forum,” Dews said.

Martinez was burned on more than 40 percent of his body when his Humvee hit a land mine when he served in Iraq in 2003. The injuries left him with scars on his face and the loss of his left ear.

Three years earlier, Dews lived his own survival story when 35 percent of his body was burned in a private plane crash that killed the pilot, Daniel Rose of Ohio. Dews’ recovery included a six-month drug-induced coma, skin graphing and the loss of his right pinkie finger – something that threatened the livelihood of the clock maker and owner of All Good Time Clock Service.

Both men had to begin again.

As an actor, Martinez found it especially tough.

“Yes, I cried at night,” Martinez said. “Girls would hardly talk to me because I wasn’t the most attractive guy in the bar. I had to grieve the loss of the old J.R.”

“To some extent, you start out as a victim, (and) you can remain in that role in you want to ... if you allow yourself to,” Dews said.

Dews found support through the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors — a national organization that provides support services through conferences and online resources.

Martinez — now a motivational speaker —is a board member of the organization, of which the word “survivor” is inherent in the name, said Amy Acton, executive director of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.

Acton, who also is a survivor — she received electrical burns in a boating accident — recoils when people use the word “victim” to describe people with burn injuries.

“We tend to be represented as victims,” Acton said. “For us, it’s really an opportunity to share the rest of the story.”

Brien Dews serves as the mayor pro-tem of Rockford and uses his life to motivate others in similar circumstances, he said.

“It’s moving beyond what happened to you and continuing on with your life that makes you a survivor,” Dews said. “On the outside, our scars maybe give us a different appearance, but we are still people on the inside.”