Nov. 1, 2011
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Cam Cleeland was an All-Pac-10 tight end for the Huskies 15 years ago then played seven seasons in the NFL.
Mindy Williams Cleeland played in the 1996 College World Series for the Huskies softball team, then made Washington's basketball team a year later as a fifth-year senior.
Yet this week, through a cause motivated by their son, one that has the potential to help thousands of children throughout the Northwest, the husband and wife team are getting a timely reminder: They are Huskies forever.
The largest charity turnout of student-athletes anyone in Washington's athletic department can recall will be outside Husky Stadium before Saturday's 7:40 p.m. game against Oregon. No fewer than 142 current Huskies from nine sports--including 32 members of the national-champion crew team and the entire gymnastics team -- will be along Montlake Boulevard, at the stadium's entrances and in the parking lots along with firefighters carrying boots. They will also be staffing booths while collecting fans' donations for the collaborative Play2Heal campaign, to build a new children's play space at the UW Medicine Regional Burn Center at Harborview.
"It's nuts. We'll also have well over 100 firemen helping collect donations. It's turning into a huge event," Mindy Cleeland said cheerfully over the phone Sunday from her family's home in Mount Vernon, Wash. "We're going to have to be really on our game."
Mindy and Cam, parents of 5-year-old Roice and younger son Treynor, have been so on their parenting games since Aug. 25, 2010.
That afternoon at a friend's home in La Conner, near where the Skagit River empties into northern Puget Sound, then-3-year-old son Treynor was playing on an indoor treadmill during a break from swimming. Suddenly his older brother was rushing to their mother screaming. Treynor had lost his balance on the treadmill, which then dragged him under a rear retaining bar at the back of the machine. The belt continued to move while Treynor was caught against it. He suffered second-degree burns over his body and third-degree burns from his right deltoid muscle in the shoulder down his arm and around his elbow.
Cam, who is now 36 and last played in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams in 2005, has started a business podcasting high school games, gametimenorthwest.com. He is also a volunteer firefighter in Mount Vernon and teams with his wife to help produce a local version of the annual Entertainment Book of discounts to regional attractions. He was hours away in Olympia working on his new website while Mindy rushed Treynor to Island Hospital in Anacortes.
"I didn't know how bad it was. I'd never seen a friction burn," Mindy said. "There was no blood. ... It looked white with a brown stripe going down it."
She began realizing at the Anacortes hospital how badly Treynor was burned. The staff at smaller Island Hospital recommended Mindy drive her son to Seattle and the renowned burn center at Harborview, home of the only level-one burn and trauma center for children or adults in a four-state region.
While Cam, part of Don James' final recruiting class at UW in 1992 out of Sedro-Wooley High School, fought through Interstate 5 traffic to get from Olympia to his badly burned son in Seattle, doctors in Harborview's emergency room referred Treynor to its burn unit.
The doctors in the unit then performed a skin graft procedure. They transplanted healthy skin from elsewhere on his body to replace his destroyed skin cells.
Treynor was in Harborview for 16 days, inside the burn center where the majority of patients are adults. Doctors needed to monitor how the new skin cells were growing at the trauma site. Treynor had to wear a body cast for five days for the painful, second degree burns - "It was amazing to watch a 3-year-old go through that and mature. He was awesome," Mindy says.
He also needed daily care in cleaning the wounds, bathing, redressing bandages, and keeping his arm active enough to promote proper healing.
That's when the Cleelands learned of a need for what became the Play2Heal campaign.
"They want burn victims to move as much as possible so as to reduce scar tissue, and so the kid is not afraid to use his limbs," Mindy Cleeland said. "They really want to have kids use play as therapy, kick the ball around, move around, stretching, things like that."
Problem is, as great as Harborview's burn center is it doesn't have a large space beyond the rehabilitation area for interactive play. For kids to, well, be kids.
"They told us we had to (continue) rehab," said Mindy, who with Cam knew all about rehab - she had two shoulder surgeries for a torn labrum going into her senior year on the Huskies softball team, and Cam had three Achilles tendon ruptures plus concussions from football. "We said, `OK, where do we do rehab with him?'
"They said, `You can go in the hallway.'"
So the Cleelands had little Treynor kicking a ball down Harborview's halls, "avoiding the elderly patients," Mindy said.
"There was nowhere for siblings to go and play while visiting children patients, either. You know, siblings can only stay a half hour before it becomes dangerous because they are doing hot laps around the unit.
"They don't want their kid (patients) lying in bed. They wanted him to play - and there's nowhere to play."
The Play2Heal campaign seeks to raise money for that new place for kids to play inside the UW Medicine Regional Burn Center at Harborview. The campaign's participants include: UW Medicine's Harborview Medical Center, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters and the UW WSAAC student-athlete group.
The Huskies' game against Oregon Saturday night is kicking off several boot drives and fundraisers that will be held over the next year.
Shane Pahukoa, a starting safety as a junior on the Huskies' 1991 national-championship team who played three seasons in the NFL is a spokesperson for the campaign.
As a grade-schooler in 1979, Pahukoa was playing with children in the backyard of a relative's house on a family trip to Vancouver, Wash. A cousin poured gasoline onto a camp fire, causing the flames to jump into Pahukoa's face. He suffered third-degree burns on his head, neck, hand and body.
"I have spent time at the Harborview burn center at different times in my early childhood, all due to my burns," said Pahukoa, who is flying up from Los Angeles this weekend to help kickoff the Play2Heal campaign and join in the '91 team's 20th-year reunion. "I know first-hand how difficult it can be to recover from burns, not only physically but mentally, as well."
Several local advertising and film professionals have donated their time to produce a 30-second public-service announcement for the campaign. It will be shown on the HuskyTron stadium scoreboard during Saturday night's game.
Harborview was one of the first hospitals to adopt the approach of early removal of burn tissue, The medical center notes its overall survival rate for burn patients is 96% -- and that often translates into an extended hospital stay for burned children and their families.
Harborview officials would love to build a children's play area in its 37-year-old burn unit, last remodeled in 1980, themselves. But as Mindy Cleeland explained, "Harborview generates a zero to one percent profit margin each year. They take care of everyone who walks through the door, regardless of their insurance situation.
"They just don't have the funds to do it."
That's why she, her husband and Treynor started a week of raising awareness for the project on Sunday.
"It's something that's really important, because not only for the kids (like Treynor) but those all over the unit," Cam Cleeland told KING-5 television's New Day show Monday.
"We saw the stats. Over 33 percent of the (people) who are in that burn unit are kids. So for them to have some sort of structure, to get out of that unit, to get out and play, to feel like a kid a little bit, that's the key. It's so important for them to be able to function and move around."