His friends call former Navy SEAL Ryan Parrott “Birdman,” but not for the obvious reason. Parrott served multiple tours of duty in Iraq, and during his first deployment he went momentarily airborne.
“We were driving back from a mission, and my Hummer hit a roadside bomb, and blew me straight out of the turret. So I went flying in the sky and, ever since I took that flight, the guys just started calling me ‘Birdman.’” The self-deprecating Parrott notes that when you’re in the military, you tend to get nicknamed either for doing something heroic, or for finding yourself in a situation in which you look far less than heroic. “Birdman,” he says, is definitely the latter.
But since leaving the military, the “Birdman” has become the leader in a cause for thousands of burn victims inside and outside the military. Parrott founded Sons of the Flag Burn Foundation, a charity that does one thing: It raises money for burn research to advance treatments for burn victims.
Parrott started Sons of the Flag after meeting fellow military man Sam Brown.
“Sam Brown moved to Texas because he was in the rehabilitation center at down at Brooke Army Medical Center,” Parrott says. “He hit an IED as well, only his bomb went what you call ‘high order.’ So, it exploded pretty hard.”
Brown was burned over 30% of his body with third degree burns, including burning his hands and his face.
When Parrott met Brown, the latter had already undergone 30 surgeries and was awaiting his next one. From that conversation, Parrott became curious about burn surgery and learned that few doctors specialize in it, for several reasons. For one, they can make more money performing simpler cosmetic procedures.
Burn surgery, it turns out, is one of the most difficult surgeries to perform.
“Once the skin gets burned,” Parrott says, “it manipulates itself all the time. It changes.”
Parrott says frankly that he was not happy with the care that Brown was getting. “I just wasn’t happy, and I thought there could be more done.”
He searched online for information about burn treatment, and looked for organizations that raise money for research on burns, and came up nearly empty.
“I couldn’t find anything on organizations that were actually doing stuff for burns. I found a couple here and there, but nothing on that national scale that really covers burns” or raises national awareness about treating them. Parrott also realized that the technology for triage and treating burns is lagging far behind other medical research.
So the following day he called Brown and asked him to be a part of an organization to raise money to pursue focused burn research.