MILLCREEK CANYON — Some kids asked Tayton Winward on his way home from school one day if he wanted to see something cool.
Like a typical 7-year-old he said yes. But he didn't know they were playing with gasoline and fire — or that the volatile mixture would blow up.
"I got burned the worst out of all four kids. I stayed in the hospital for 40 days. I was in a coma. My life is really changed after that. Some changes are good and some changes are bad," said the now 11-year-old boy from the small town of Perry in Box Elder County.
One of those good changes, he said, was the opportunity to go Burn Camp in Millcreek Canyon the past three years, which he described as "really, really fun."
Tayton is among 50 boys and girls ages 6 to 12 at the annual five-day camp who are dealing with the physical and emotional scars of being burned. Dubbed Camp Nah Nah Mah — the Ute word meaning together in friendship — it is put on by the University of Utah Health Care Burn Center.
On Sunday, campers were treated like Hollywood stars, complete with colorful outfits, silly interviews, paparazzi and a walk on the red carpet to a special dinner in the lodge. It's a highlight of the week that includes canoeing, archery, swimming, hiking and arts and crafts.
"It's just fun. We deck out the lodge," said Kristen Quinn, U. burn center psycho-social program coordinator. "But we're also talking to the kids about how you walk with confidence. How do you enter a space with confidence instead of being nervous that people are going to stare or ask questions."
The camp offers an uplifting opportunity for survivors to mingle with others who understand the challenges that go beyond their scars.
Quinn said the emotional trauma can be as hard to deal with as the physical trauma. Professional counselors at the camp help children with psychological needs, self-esteem and self-empowerment.
Tayton, who will be sin sixth-grade this year, said he felt alone after the explosion that burned his arms, face and airway. But he said he's learned at camp that he's not alone.
"There's lots of other kids out there and they know what you've been going through," he said, feelings he now share with new campers.
Camp, he said, also taught him to tell a short version of what happened to him, "how I don't have to make it a really, really long story."
Tayton said he's glad he doesn't have to wear pressure garments on his scarred arms anymore. The most difficult thing now, he said, is trying to not scratch or pick his scars.
"It feels like a mosquito bite, except like 10 times," he said. "So it's hard like not to itch it."
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