Death of his son inspired man to become a Shriner

July 18, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - After the death of his son from burns nearly two years ago, Bill Smith vowed that he was going to devote his time, talents and energy to helping other parents avoid the tragedy his family experienced.

Dustin Smith was burned in a campfire accident in October 2003 in Washington County. He was treated at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore for 11 days before he was flown to Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati.

Dustin was burned from head to toe and suffered burns to his lungs, Smith said. Dustin died Nov. 7, a week after he turned 17.


"The Shriners flew Dustin and me out to the hospital in Ohio," Smith said. The flight, the care and the transportation of Dustin's body back to Hagerstown were accomplished at no charge to the Smiths.

"I never even knew Shriners existed before then," Smith said. But after his experiences during the treatment of his son, Smith decided to become a Shriner.

"I felt honored knowing that this place exists," Smith said of the hospital in Ohio. "I had to get involved because they touched my heart."

Bill Newkirk, a longtime member of Hagerstown's Little Sayara Unit of the Ali Ghan Shrine in Cumberland, Md., said he and others heard about Dustin's plight and decided to look into it.

"We had talked about it after a friend of Bill Smith's approached us at a parade," Newkirk said.

Fellow Sayara Unit member Dick Sanders pulled out his cell phone and called Shriner Bill Kight in Cumberland, Newkirk said.

"Kight called Smith's wife at Bayview and arranged the flight," he said.

Sanders explained that Shriners provide such care at no expense to the family.

"Everything is on the Shriners - care, room and board for the family ... there is no cost," Sanders said.

After the death of his son, Smith began exploring how to become a Shriner.

As it turned out, Smith learned he had to become a member of a Masonic organization in order to be a Shriner. He and his friend, Rick Morris, worked through that program together. Six months later, both became Masons.

"Rick is a friend who stuck with us beyond friendship," Smith said.

Smith and Morris were inducted into the Little Sayara Unit on June 4 in ceremonies attended by the Imperial Potentate of the International Order of Mystic Shrine of North America.

Smith said he will devote as much time as he can to the Shriners.

"I'll keep going and going until I drop," he said.

The Little Sayara Unit meets at the Morris Frock American Legion Post on Northern Avenue and has 38 members. Famous for their little cars which appear in area parades, the Little Sayara Unit has 17 cars still running and is setting up funds to purchase new ones, Newkirk said.

As Smith found out through his experiences, there is never a charge to the patient, parent or any third party for any service or medical treatment received at the hospitals, and no state, local or federal funding of any kind is sought or accepted by Shriners hospitals.

For more information on the local Little Sayara Unit, call Newkirk at 301-842-3578.

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