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John's Journey: How the Hoosier Burn Camp sent a young man's life down a new path

John Sego's journey went from burn survivor to firefighter, thanks to the experiences he gained and mentors he met at Hoosier Burn Camp.

INDIANAPOLIS — During the Olympics, we've heard so many stories of athletes overcoming the odds to reach their potential.

And there's an Indianapolis man who embodies that same spirit, not as an athlete, but as a public safety hero.

John Sego's journey went from burn survivor to firefighter, thanks to the experiences he gained and mentors he met at Hoosier Burn Camp.

So perhaps if anyone was meant to be a firefighter, destined to protect people and treat them in tragedy, Sego may be it.

"That's part of who he is, a drive to succeed and a drive to be better. That's who John Sego is at his core," said Indianapolis firefighter/paramedic David Dildine. "He's absolutely one of my favorite success stories."

"I've been gifted with something not a lot of people have experienced in their life," Sego said.

That "gift," as he now views it, is serious physical injury: third-degree burns he suffered as a child in a garage fire.

"Up here on my shoulder, on my left hand here, on both my legs down here," Sego said, pointing out his scars. "Also my left hip, some of my face. I was playing with gasoline and a lighter, so not necessarily the smartest thing to do, but unsupervised kid just curious. Now I definitely am happy what happened happened, because I'm where I'm at today because of it."

His journey, Sego said, had a butterfly effect: from survivor to mentor to firefighter. The key was a week-long summer camp that changed his life.

Hoosier Burn Camp is where he met counselor and now-fellow firefighter David Dildine.

"I started in 2008, which John would have been 13 at the time," Dildine said.

"I think his first year was my first year," Sego added.

Credit: Hoosier Burn Cam
Joh Sego (center) and counselor and now-fellow firefighter David Dildine (right).

"I remember he was extremely competitive, very athletic," Dildine said. "John was all over the place."

"We just clicked right away," Sego said.

Hoosier Burn Camp is where John found freedom and confidence in his own skin.

It hosts children ages 8-18 who have suffered the trauma of severe burn injuries.

"Hoosier Burn Camp gives an opportunity outside of a hospitalized setting for burn survivors to truly be able to connect in a way that's very unique," explained Mark Koopman, Hoosier Burn Camp executive director. "It's the opportunity to do something amazing and then be able to, through the psycho-social trauma associated with severe burn injury, gives them an opportunity to debrief and just talk about some of the things they went through."

Kids get to experience outdoor activities at no cost, with no focus on their scars, and build self-esteem in the process.

As a counselor, Dildine watched kids change and become stronger, year after year.

John Sego was one of them.

"It's a place where the kids can come and open up and just relax and they don't have to worry about prying eyes or they don't have to worry about people coming in and staring at them," Dildine said. "It's pretty incredible."

"Once I got around people just like me, it just kind of unblocked something I didn't realize was in there. So I just became this kind of more free, you know, open-spirited person, and I guess it's grown since then because I haven't turned back," Sego said.

In fact, Sego is now a counselor himself, mentoring other burn survivors and transforming young lives, one adventurous week at a time.

Most recently, he went with a small group rafting, hiking and ziplining in North Carolina.

"I see myself in a lot of those little kids," Sego said.

Over the years, Sego also stayed connected with his own mentor.

They became roommates in Indy several years ago, then a team on the job, when Sego joined the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Now, they're on the same shift with IFD, with the same mission of protecting the community.

"I mean, we're pretty close. We're best friends," he said of Dildine.

"He's a brother to me," Dildine added.

It was all started by a bond made at Hoosier Burn Camp, which helped a young survivor realize his potential.

"I know I don't share the same bloodline with John Sego, but he's truly one of my children. I've watched him grow up," Koopman said. "So seeing John evolve from a ten-year-old burn survivor to a 26-year-old man, it's just been amazing."

You can help young burn survivors too, through a fundraiser next month at Mallow Run Winery.

"Burn the Cork", on Friday, Sept. 17, will have live music, wine, food, raffles and fireworks.

This event raises money for Hoosier Burn Camp and other youth enrichment programs through the Johnson County Professional Firefighters Charitable Foundation (501c3). Click here for ticket information.