Shriner family ties

Tom Neild with son, Ty in 2001


It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, 2001. A 4-year-old boy sits on the floor, happily playing with his toy cars as a member of his family prepares a post-Thanksgiving meal while others work on decorating the Christmas tree. While cooking potatoes, a family member attempts to move a pot of boiling water when suddenly the hot pad catches fire, causing her to drop the 10-quart pot. Scalding, hot liquid rushes toward the toddler, and down his neck, upper torso, lower torso, both arms and both legs, causing – in a matter of seconds – first and second degree burns on 32 percent of his body.

Panic-stricken, the child’s mother and grandfather use cold water and ice to try to ease the toddler’s searing pain. The boy is rushed to the local hospital, unequipped to handle such serious first and second-degree burns. Although the hospital does all it can, the decision is made to transport him to a Galveston hospital that specializes in burn treatment.

Ty Neild, now 16, survived this serious burn, but might not be alive today if it weren’t for Shriners Hospital in Galveston. And the hospital most likely would not have been available to Ty when he needed it if it weren’t for his great-grandfather H.B. Neild, founder of Beaumont construction company H.B. Neild & Sons.  

H.B. Neild was an influential member of the El Mina Shriners organization, part of the Shrine, an international fraternity of approximately 375,000 members of 194 Temples throughout the United States and world.

In the 1960s, H.B. Neild, championed the effort to bring the hospital to Galveston rather than Cleveland, Ohio, which was also a candidate.

“The Shriners often met at the Galvez in Galveston and they wanted to offer thousands of children that were severely burned … specialized treatment for their injuries,” said Karen Neild, Ty’s mother and the wife of Tom Neild, Ty’s father, BISD board member, vice president of H.B. Neild & Sons and grandson of H.B. Neild. “In the 1960s, they recognized that there was a lack of medical expertise for treating those severe burns. My husband’s grandfather recognized this. The chemical industry of the nation is in Southeast Texas, and we have the potential to have horrible burns. They just wanted to make sure that we had a facility in this particular area.”

H.B. Neild went on to serve on the Board of Directors for Shriners Hospital in Galveston.

Four years before Ty’s accident, H.B. Neild & Son employees and the Neild family toured the Shriners Hospital in Galveston, a hospital that the company and its employees donated money to on a regular basis.

“We wanted our employees to know what their gift was buying every year, so we were able to take a nominal tour of this facility where we saw ears being made and noses being put together … just the tremendous love and generosity of such a facility that is committed to excellence and compassion … a family-centered burn and reconstructive (surgery) center,” Karen said. “They saw all this going on, and therefore, wanted to continue to give to this great cause. We didn’t have any idea that we would actually be the beneficiary of such a program and that we were able to take our own son to that facility.”

It was a lifesaver for Ty, who nonetheless suffered a horrible experience, Karen said, especially when he first arrived at the emergency room at the hospital in Beaumont.

“That baby had sheets of skin just peeling off of him,” she said. “He was screaming a blood-curdling scream that you’ve never heard before. He lost tremendous amounts of fluid in the emergency room.”

Ty was to be rushed via Life Flight helicopter from Beaumont to Shriners Burn Institute in Galveston. Because of foggy conditions, however, the helicopter was forced to land in Winnie, where Ty was then taken via ambulance to Shriners Hospital, Karen said.

His parents weren’t allowed to go with Ty on the Life Flight. They didn’t know that he was redirected via ambulance in Winnie. The Neilds rushed to Galveston to meet up with their son. On the ferry in Port Bolivar, they were parked behind an ambulance.

“I remember thinking whoever is on that ambulance, it must be a horrible situation to be going this late at night into Galveston … something terrible must have happened,” Karen said. “God please protect whoever that is and get them to medical safety as quickly as possible.”

 The Neilds had to find their way through the dark of the night to Shriners Hospital. When they finally got there, an ambulance driver approached them and asked for Karen’s signature.

Confused by the driver and trying to rush to her son’s side, Karen questioned why she needed to sign something from an ambulance driver, who then explained that Ty had been transported by ambulance — the ambulance that the Neilds had seen on the ferry.

“We were right behind him and didn’t know it,” Karen said.

Karen said Ty had to undergo reconstruction and restorative surgeries for his burns and was treated by 17 doctors — from rehab doctors to psychiatrists to plastic surgeons — during his 17-day stay in the intensive care unit. Because of inactivity, atrophy and the severity of the burns in his torso area, Ty had to relearn how to stand and walk through intense rehabilitation.

“He looked like he was wrapped up like a mummy — with bandages from head to toe,” Karen said. “He’s had skin grafts, had his head scalped twice … they took the skin off of his head and replaced the skin off of his leg. They take your own skin and can stretch it out 70 times. They placed that skin … especially on his thighs, which were so severely burned, and stapled it. He had over 500 staples and Biobrane (a synthetic biological membrane is placed over donor sites and excised areas as a temporary covering) with his additional skin.”

After Ty was released from ICU, he and his family lived in an apartment provided by Shriners for three months.

During their stay, Karen approached a doctor randomly, asking if there was any literature she could receive regarding burn treatment and rehab. The doctor happened to be Dr. David Herndon, the “guru of burn care,” and brought Karen a book, which he had written.

“They still use the book (‘Total Burn Care’) today at UTMB and at Shriners; it is the “bible of burn care,” she said.

When Ty was in the hospital, Ty’s brother Thomas, a student at Texas A&M University, was so devastated by his brother’s accident that he shared the story with several of his professors, Karen said.

“His professors put an appeal out to the campus and the kids of A&M started bringing presents to the classrooms,” she said. “It took three trucks for them to be brought to our home and reloaded back up to be sent to Galveston for the children.”

After Ty was initially released from the hospital, he had to return for follow-up treatment weekly for the next four months. Twelve years after the accident, he still has to return for treatment and will continue to receive treatment at Shriners Hospital until he is 21, Karen said.

Ty is a healthy, strong 16-year-old who works out every day, plays basketball, football and swims. According to his mom, Ty will be going on a date with Jordan Starnes for an upcoming Christmas dance at West Brook High School.

“The very child that invited him to the Christmas Affair … she was the very child that when he was 4 and in preschool with him came and brought him a stuffed Cookie Monster animal and came to see him,” Karen said. “She knows of the scars and what he went through, and they’ve remained friends all these years.”

The Neilds continue to donate to the Shriners Hospital and bring toys to the hospital whenever they go for appointments.

Karen said Ty aspires to one day be a Shriner, himself. He and his grandfather, Harold Steward, attended a recent gathering of Shriners and Shrine Clowns at Calder Woods in Beaumont on Tuesday, Nov. 26, to receive presents donated by 90-year-old Pauline Walker. Walker, a long-time supporter of the Shriners and former head of their ladies auxiliary, Daughters of the Nile. She had a birthday in September and asked that, in lieu of presents being bought for her, that gifts be donated to the Shriners Hospital in Galveston.

Friday, Dec. 13, the gifts will be taken to the Shriners Hospital in Galveston by the Shrine Clowns, including Lester Smith, who is also the treasurer for the El Mina Shrine Center in Galveston and chairman of the building committee for the El Mina Shriners Beaumont location. Each month, the Shriner Clowns give a birthday party for children at the hospital in addition to other holiday parties.

To donate to Shriners Hospital, contact Lester Smith at (409) 833-2025 or visit Shriners Hospital in Galveston is one of 22 Shriners non-profit hospitals across North America.

According to the El Mina Shriners website, The Shriners primary philanthropic effort, through the vessel of Shriners Hospital, is to “provide advanced care for children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate … through innovative pediatric specialty care, world-class research and outstanding medical education … for children under the age of 18.”

“It is done at no cost to the family out of love,” Karen said.