The Burning Question

Published in the LA Story
December 15, 2018

Probably you will wonder WHY I chose to run this specific guest expert post- particularly after you read it. It’s quite different from the usual topics I feature. There are many reasons why– but bottom-line, this is not a Pollyanna story but one about a woman who had suffered a great tragedy and overcame the obstacles that faced her.

Given that California for the last 18 months has suffered through a huge number of disastrous fires, there are clearly some people who have had horrific burns from those fires. Also many in the military have suffered significant burn injuries in combat. How do we help them? What do we do? Can those individuals regain their footing and their lives?

The point to be made is that your life is not over – even when you face the most horrific events. It’s important to know that there is something powerful that can be learned – and achieved- through the process of healing is pleased to introduce you to Celia LaVon Belt.

Celia LaVon Belt is a remarkable woman with an extraordinary story of beating the odds. A burn and abuse survivor, she underwent thirty-one surgeries before the age of nine, and would be subjected to dozens more later on. “They brought in a priest to read me last rites,” she recalls.

Remarkably, she’s still here and able to share what she’s learned over a lifetime that almost never was. Belt, a successful entrepreneur and founder of The Moonlight Fund, an award-winning non-profit organization for burn survivors and their families, has never shied away from challenges.

“In the twenty years since its founding, we’ve touched the lives of 10,000 burn survivors and their families.”

Belt recently received the Distinguished Citizen Medal from the Daughters of the American Revolution for the work she’s done with wounded vets. In addition to ministering to the emotional, financial, and physical needs of burn survivors, Belt’s organization is busy addressing systemic issues as well, lobbying state and federal lawmakers to increase benefits for burn survivors.

The Burning Question: Who Will Foot the Bill for America’s Increasing Burn-Care Costs?

By Celia Belt

Each year in the United States, half a million Americans will be treated for burns so severe as to require hospitalization. The “survivors”—including more than three-hundred children each day and a drastic increase in U.S. military members since the turn of the millennium—can be expected to undergo arduous, agonizing surgeries and painful rehabilitation lasting for years.

The emotional and physical trauma of these fellow citizens is not a pretty picture. Nor is it an inexpensive one. According to estimates, patients with severe burns with no complications can expect a whopping $1.6 million bill for treatment over the cost of their lifetime. For patients who do go on to develop complications as the result of severe burns, hospital bills can run more than $10 million.

Where is that money coming from? Partly from you and me in the cost of increased healthcare premiums. But often times from people like me, directly. As the co-founder of the Moonlight Fund (, a Texas-based non-profit organization for burn survivors and their families, we’re often tasked with raising funds to help with the costs of expensive procedures in addition to the emotional support and caregiver assistance our organization was founded for. Many times I’ve reached into my own pocket—not because I’m a saint, but because I’ve been there.

As a childhood burn survivor myself, scalded over 32% of my body, I’m well aware that infections resulting from burns—which occur in one out of three cases—add between $58,000 and $120,000 to treatment costs. Skin breakdown—which happens one out of two times—adds up to $107,000 more. Disfigurement and scarring? Up to $35,000 on top of that. Then, of course, there are psychological issues associated with severe trauma. 57% of burn victims need help for it, help that costs as much as $75,000 per patient.

It’s no wonder I spend a good deal of my time trying to find scholarship beds for survivors soon leaving the burn unit or negotiating with compression garment companies to give us a break on high-cost wound garments for our patients. The time we spend writing grant proposals, hosting fundraisers and digging into our own pockets to help people could far better be spent helping them emotionally recover and fit back into a society horrified at burned skin.

Burn victims—who are often socially isolated due to their wounds—appreciate you not staring at them on the street. But that doesn’t mean we want to be invisible. Today, more than ever, we can’t afford to be.

What is the Moonlight Fund? Moonlight Fund Inc. was founded in 1998 in San Antonio, Texas, by Celia Belt and fellow burn survivor Henry Coffeen III, the staff at the Burn Unit at the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC), and executives at Ernst & Young.

It provides financial, emotional and in-kind assistance to burn survivors and their families. Moonlight Fund has helped nearly 5000 burn survivors and their family members. It is the only organization of its kind, offering services from onset of an injury, through rehab and on into the patient’s and families’ new lives. The organization helps military and civilian survivors in many ways, including paying medical bills, providing financial aid to finish college degrees, building and furnishing homes, and most importantly, providing a support system when it is most desperately needed.

Get Involved with the Moonlight Fund