From flames to flourishing: A burn victim becomes a doctor
It was a journey to becoming a doctor with a lot of stops and detours for Laurence Busse, MD, MBA. This trip began like a lot of other travels for the 19-year-old Tulane University political economy major, with a car ride on a night out with friends in New Orleans in 1990.
"The summer before my sophomore year, I was doing what college kids do," said Busse. "We were out and about. It was pretty late. We were coming home, and it was a short drive. It was probably a mile and a half."
That ride ended in a crash that not only significantly changed his life but also eventually the course of his career.
"There was chaos in the car," Busse said. "It caught fire and I was stuck in the backseat in a car engulfed in flames. I climbed out the sunroof and jumped off the car and ran away to the sidewalk, where I collapsed. I knew right away that it was a bad accident."
Busse was the sole survivor. The others in the car were unable to escape.
The business of helping
Plastic surgeon Thomas Crais, MD, was called to the emergency room early that morning. He was the first doctor to access and treat Busse.
"This I knew was going to be an extremely difficult case because in the very quick evaluation of his burns," Crais said. "It seemed like they were all primarily deep, second and third-degree burns. They included all of his or most of his face, hands, his arms up to his shoulder. His chest was clean, as I remember. Back, fairly clean. But his extremities, both extremities, were pretty substantially burned."
Yet, Busse was determined to live.
The business of fighting
The odds were Busse was unlikely to survive with severe burns on 85 percent of his body. He was given about a three percent chance of living.
"Dr. Crais, like everyone else in the building, didn't think I was going to make it," Busse said. "But he said he saw some fight in me, and then he sprang into action."
Crais said Busse's spirit to overcome challenges was immediately visible. Busse complained little during his three-month hospital stay even though recovery was many times torturously painful.
"There was also a sadness," Busse said. "What's my life going to be like, and what can I do now? What can't I do now that I used to be able to do? What am I going to look like? What are people going to think? Will I ever have a normal life?"
It was not an easy battle, and, at times, the fight was almost lost, but with a dedicated team of doctors and hundreds of surgeries, Busse healed enough to begin his plastic surgery journey.
Back to business as usual
Busse had a singular goal after healing: Return to business as usual by going back to college to finish his degree.
"I got back to college one year to the day the accident happened," he said. "That was my goal. I knew if I didn't get back within a year, I would never go back, and then I didn't know where I was going to end up."
Bussed graduated. He went on to get his MBA at Emory University in Atlanta. Then, he worked as a business consultant in the corporate finance department of a couple of the big five accounting firms, focusing on mergers and acquisitions.
Yet, medicine was never far from his mind. Both of his parents were in the medical field: His dad was a physician, and his mom was an occupational therapist.
"There was always the undercurrent of healthcare in the family," Busse said.
His accident made him hyper-aware of the patient's experience in medicine. He realized his knowledge and skills were more applicable to medicine than business. He began taking pre-med classes. Those classes eventually turned into an MD. His specialty became critical care, an area he directly experienced after his accident.
"The most formative experience of my journey was being in that ICU," Busse said. "The hours of struggling through was a classroom for me. As a provider that has had a patient experience, there's just a whole different set of perspectives as to what it means to be a patient who is critically ill, who is at risk of death."
"He decided he wanted to go into medicine, and I think that's when his real spirit showed," Crais said. "I think he learned a lot in that horrific three months. I think he really turned the most potentially negative situation into a positive."
After acquiring his MD, medicine and business merged for Busse. He is currently the medical director for critical care at Emory Johns Creek Hospital and site director of the Emory Critical Care Center.
"I utilize management and organization skills daily," Busse said. "I also developed an interest and penchant for research during my fellowship and now run the Satellite Trails Group of Emory, which is an entrepreneurial endeavor that blends my business skills with medicine through clinical trials."
The business of inspiring others
Busse's life stands as an embodiment of resilience and shows the power of perseverance. He's grown stronger and more determined with every hurdle he's faced.
"Life is fragile and fleeting, and you only have one," he said. "Make the best of it. Leave the Earth better than when you started and find your passion in life."
Busse hopes his journey, challenges and example will inspire others on their own adventure to find their life's work.
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.