Debbie Oge’s life changed forever in October 2011 when she received a call that her husband, Gordon Oge, was in the burn unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He had suffered severe burns when his big rig careened off the road after a tire blew out near Winnie.

“The front tire blew out, split the fuel tank open, and caught on fire,” Gordon Oge said. “[It] went off the road, hit a culvert, went on its side and I was stuck in that truck.”

Debbie Oge rushed to Galveston with a few dollars and not much else.

After dealing with that harrowing experience, she wanted to help families who might find themselves in the same stressful situation she was in four years ago.

Oge, who is the principal at Guess Elementary in Beaumont, recently led a contingent of students to help the families of burn victims being treated at UTMB’s Blocker Burn Unit.

They delivered several wagons full of welcome bags for family members of patients, who much like her, ended up making a sudden trip to the hospital to take care of loved ones.

Gordon, who received 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his arms, legs, torso and face, underwent care at the Blocker Burn Unit inside John Sealy Hospital for 17 days, then had to travel to the island twice a week for several months, then once a week for several more months for treatment. He has since returned to work, though not in the hauling business.

UTMB’s Blocker Burn Unit specializes in the treatment of thermal, chemical and radiation burns, as well as research related to burns, trauma, sepsis and tissue repair. It has the highest survival rate of patients with major burn injury in the U.S. In 1996, it became the first burn center in the U.S. to be certified by both the American College of Surgeons and the American Burn Association.

The Oge’s struggle became personal for the students at Guess Elementary. That year, the staff and student council at Guess Elementary, assisted by Debbie, started collecting supplies to donate to the Blocker Burn Unit. The idea came from witnessing the need for quality supplies for burn victims. This year, the school? started sorting the collected items into welcome bags for the family members of burn patients.

“When I got the call, I left with two dollars in my pocket, a quarter of tank of gas and nothing else,” said Debbie Oge.

Welcome kits include items such as toothpaste and toothbrushes provided by the parent of a Guess Elementary student council member who works in a dentist office, travel-size soap, deodorant and other toiletries.

“We go to classrooms and do a presentation on what it means to help others that have been burned,” said Anaya Samuel, a 5th grader at Guess and the student council president. “We tell other students, if someone like your mom gets burned, you would want them to feel safe. They are really happy to donate.”

This year’s collection drive raised “several wagons full of supplies.” The Oge’s took the student council officers and student council sponsor to hand-deliver them to the Blocker Burn Unit in late-May and toured the facility. It taught them about the delicate care that UTMB provides for their burn patients.

“These families are here for months at a time,” said Jamie Heffernan, nurse manager for the unit. “To receive assistance and make them feel more comfortable is beyond priceless. Also, to build that relationship with these kids, is great for our burn prevention efforts.”

After the student council officers deliver their care packages, they share what they learned on the tour with their classmates. One girl left the tour wanting to be a nurse. For Samuel, it’s the lesson of helping others that she will take with her as she moves onto middle school.

“Even if we don’t do this type of fundraiser at my new school, I still plan on doing things on my own,” she said. “It feels good to give to those that need help.”

Click here for a high-resolution photo of Gordon Oge (left), Debbie Oge (second-from-right) and the Guess Elementary student council as they drop off supplies to The University of Texas Medical Branch Blocker Burn Unit.

Click here for a high-resolution photo of Gordon Oge (left), Debbie Oge (right) drop off supplies to The University of Texas Medical Branch Blocker Burn Unit.