PRINCETON — Cody Byrns is juggling a lot these days.
Not so much the flying fire batons and balls and discs that were once the crowd-pleasers of the Princeton native's budding clown ministry — although it's always going to be a part of his life.
Now? Now it's appointments and television and radio and newspaper interviews across the country for his book tour, speaking engagements through Cody Byrns Ministries and meetings in Indianapolis to plan for the progress of the Cody Byrns Foundation for burn survivors.
To say that Byrns has been through the fire would be an understatement. He was in it and through it five years ago this month, when his sport utility vehicle exploded into flames as a box truck traveling at highway speed slammed into the back of his stopped SUV at a red light on U.S. 41.
Princeton Fire Territory and Gibson County ambulance crews pulled him from the burning wreckage. Transported to Evansville, he was transferred to the one burn unit that had a bed open at that moment.
Turns out, it was the exact right place for someone who was burned to the bone in some portions of his body. Eskenazi Health's burn unit would be his home for two and a half months, followed by six weeks of rehabilitation needed to do the things he once did without even thinking about. Weeks and months more outpatient rehab and surgeries and checkups have been the story of his life since May, 2013.
Arriving back in Indiana from his home in Florida earlier this week, Burns stopped to make a video at that busy intersection to use as part of the testimony that he gives in his miraculous recovery.
Was it traumatic to stand at the spot where he nearly lost his life five years ago?
"It would be if I remembered any of it," he grins.
His mind was mercifully protected by unconsciousness, but his body reflexively remembers some of the trauma.
Unexpected noises sometimes prompt a reaction. That and other parts of the healing process were part of the reason why, after attending a 2015 burn survivors conference, that Byrns worked with Eskenazi Health burn unit plastic surgeon and burn specialist Raj Sood to create the Cody Byrns Foundation. Byrns met with Eskenazi Health Foundation and Dr. Sood earlier in the week to discuss the goals of helping burn survivors through camps, conferences and other ways to address emotional and physical needs.
The Cody Byrns Foundation for Burn Survivors was established to provide reconstructive surgeries and ongoing therapeutic support to burn survivors. Byrns said Thursday that while Medicaid and insurance may pay for some of the costs, other reconstructive surgeries are costly. His goal is to raise individual and corporate donations to help cover the cost of surgeries, transportation and providing family accommodations during a patient’s treatment and rehab.
Earlier this week, Byrns discussed the possibility of traveling to Kenya in October to do work for the foundation's goal of establishing a burn unit there.
Byrns knows a lot about the surgeries and the scars. His life at 23, as the children's pastor at Oasis Assembly of God, was evolving into evangelism through his clown and juggling skills to reach children. Five years later, God put a book in his heart and a mission to reach new people.
He learned to juggle again, and says he always will juggle, but that's not his focus now.
Working with burn survivors, he's driven to reach others, to help them release the scars of life. Describing how burn scars tighten, requiring surgical release, he said his book Scar Release is a tool to tell his story and witness to others.
One of the first things he says is that God did not cause his ordeal — God carried him through it.
Byrns quotes Romans 8:28, to remind readers that God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. "Scars don't have to affect our tomorrow and all that God has called us to be," he said. "We don't have to allow the things that have happened to us to hinder us."
His mother Jan, who was by his side with the rest of his family through his entire ordeal, said Thursday that seeing her son's recovery from burns so severe, burns to his bones, is "totally amazing. It's a God thing," she smiles.
Byrns has some fingers that just won't do what they once did, despite numerous surgeries. But there's a message in that, too, he said. He can still juggle. Maybe not like he once did. "But the message is that while maybe you can't do everything you used to do, don't give up," he said.
In recent years, since moving to Florida, he's had several opportunities to serve as a youth pastor, but Byrns said he knows full-time evangelism is his calling. He credits his former pastor, Rev. Mike Marsh, for nurturing that ministry and allowing him opportunities as a young childrens' evangelist.
He's gained other mentors and helpers in his new work as an author, speaker and burn foundation advocate. "I've got a whole machine working behind me," he grinned.
In the past few weeks he's done television spots in 16 cities, 17 or 18 interviews. "It's been insanely busy," he acknowledges.
After the Indianapolis meeting earlier in the week, appointments and some chances to reconnect with friends in Gibson County, Byrns is the guest author at a book signing event at Princeton Public Library Saturday from 1-2 p.m. Copies of Scar Release will be available for $12 each at the library. The book is also rated a best seller at Amazon.com for $12.99 per copy.
This is not the life he thought he would have, but it's developed into more than he could have imagined. "At 28, there's a lot more to learn," he says. "I just want His conviction to draw me closer to Him."