Childhood Tragedy Becomes Source of Advocacy for Burn Center Supporter

Paul Wappel, assistant vice president of Public Relations and Community Relations for Horace Mann, stopped by Memorial’s Regional Burn Center recently to visit with nurse manager Rosie Mottar, RN, BSN. Wappel has been a strong advocate for the Burn Center for many years. Photograph by Chad Jeffers.

In the summer of 1978, Paul Wappel was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then 15, Wappel was working at a local pool in Belleville, just east of St. Louis, and was responsible for cutting the grass. When he ran out of gas, he headed to a storage shed for more. There, he noticed a puddle on the floor and smelled gasoline.

“The next thing I know, the room is in flames,” he recalled.

Sixty-seven percent of Wappel’s body was burned in the flash fire. He was hospitalized for six weeks in a St. Louis hospital for treatment of his first-, second- and third-degree burns before returning home to continue his treatment with his parents’ help. The painful and “very challenging” recovery process resulted in him missing two months of high school — yet thanks to dedication and the help of a tutor, he graduated on time.

“I’m very fortunate,” said Wappel, who today is assistant vice president of Public Relations and Community Relations for Horace Mann and married with three children. “I’m able to do pretty much anything I could do as well as I could before.”
Wappel moved to Springfield in 1987 to work as a sportscaster for NewsChannel 20. It was through that job that he became familiar with Memorial’s Burn Center, for which he has since become a strong advocate.

“I realized the Memorial Burn Unit was very well known and well respected in the community and central Illinois as well,” he said.

Wappel reached out to nurse manager Rosie Mottar, RN, and offered to help talk to burn patients who may benefit from hearing from somebody who has experienced and recovered from the same type of traumatic injury. He also was the featured speaker at the inaugural Burn Center’s survivor’s dinner, is an advocate for burn prevention education and has participated in the annual Burn Center 5K Run/Walk.

This year’s fifth annual Run/Walk will take place June 4 at Washington Park. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Burn Center and its community education initiatives. Memorial’s Burn Center opened in 1970 and serves more than 200 acutely burned patients each year.

“Memorial does a fantastic job with all of their burn patients,” Wappel said. “That solid reputation isn’t just in Springfield – it’s throughout the region. Employees should be proud to work there, especially the people in the Burn Unit. They do a fantastic job, and I know from experience it’s a difficult job.”

Regional Burn Center 5K Run/Walk

    When: 8 a.m. June 4 (registration begins at 7 a.m.)
    Where: Washington Park picnic shelter near the playground
    Cost: $25
    To register online: MemorialBurnCenter.com
    Highlights: The center’s mascot, Burney Bear, will make an appearance. Refreshments will be provided. Awards will be given to top finishers in age groups and by gender.