NEWBERRY — S.O.S. is the acronym for Support our Shriners.
It is a charitable organization started in Union by Joe Bates to help raise money for the free Shriners Hospitals for burned and crippled children. Their web site is www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org. His specific interest is to raise money for the Shrine Hospital in Greenville where he received a lot of his free burn treatments years ago. The story of how Bates ended up in Greenville began Oct. 25, 1980.
He was burned in an outside utility room of his Union home when he was 13 years old. Bates was severely burned over 90 percent of his body when fumes from a gas can too close to a nearby hot water heater’s pilot light, ignited.
It caused a tremendous explosion. Unaware of what had happened, Bates was trapped in a smoke and flame-filled room.
His best friend Kevin Silvers, also 13, was in the house and heard the explosion. He immediately ran outside to the carport to see flames shooting out of the top of the roof. Silvers heard Bates screaming from inside the utility room and immediately ran into the flame-engulfed room and grabbed Bates, pulling him to safety. As Bates rolled on the ground Silver used a hose to extinguish the flames on Bates’s body.
Local and regional doctors told Bates’s parents, Ruth and Keith Bates, that he would most likely not survive through the weekend. Doctors said the only hope for their son’s survival was to send him to the Shriners Burn Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio.
It was only a couple of hours after Hejaz Shriner Potentate, Carl Patrick, was advised of Bates’s plight. Bates was soon in a Lear Jet on an emergency flight to Cincinnati, Ohio. He spent nine months in that hospital fighting for his life. After multiple skin graft operations, intensive care, and physical therapy, he was released to go home on July 31, 1981.
This was soon to become known as Joe Bates day in Union.
Bates lost most of his fingers on both hands and his right foot had to be amputated due to infection. He continued to have reconstructive surgery for nine years after his release, totaling more than 100 operations. After additional reconstructive surgery at The Shriner Hospital in Greenville and three years in a wheelchair, he finally learned to walk again when he was 16.
Bates is not a Shriner, but like many of the children the Shriner Hospitals help, he wanted to give back to them. So over the years he has tirelessly and graciously given his time and all the money he could raise through his S.O.S. organization to help in his way to keep the Greenville hospital open.
To date he has raised $20,000. As a result of all his efforts the Shriners have bestowed on him the rare title of Patient Ambassador.
Now 46, he has a wonderful family. Erin is his wife of 12 years, their son Luke 11, is in the sixth grade at Pleasant Hill Middle School, and their daughter Josie, 9 and a half and in third grade at Lake Murray Elementary. This growing family was in need of a new vehicle to replace their aging utility van that is outfitted with hand controls so Bates can drive.
However, like so many families in this state they got caught up in the stagnant economy and couldn’t afford what they needed, a minivan. The family is involved in many social and fund raising activities so they stay active on the social media networks. Erin Bates had noted their transportation plight on the family Facebook page.
Over in the Saluda club, Noble Sammy Rhoden read the Facebook posting and quietly started contacting other Shriners in the area to see if he could get this family a minivan.
On the phone Rhoden said, “Joe has given to the Shriners all these years so maybe it is time for us to give something back. I contacted the Union Club, who in turn contacted the Newberry Club to help get some cash for a car.”
It also should be noted that no money was diverted from the hospital giving programs to buy the van for the Bates family.
When Hejaz High Priest and Prophet Billy Ackerman was contacted he called Joe to tell him, “The Union, Saluda, and Newberry Clubs are going to find you a vehicle. Plus as you know I am in the used parts and car business so I should be able to find something good for you and the family.”
Ackerman began to scout around and found a 1998 Chevrolet Ventura Van that fit the family’s needs.
After being presented the keys at the Union Club, Bates and his family drove down to Prosperity where the vehicle was presented to him by past Potentate Jimmy Smith, Assistant Rabban Barry S. Koon, Noble Bill Ackerman Sr. and his son Billy at Ackerman’s Used Auto Parts.
Forget the fact that he was in a T-shirt, and the temperature was a breezy cold and cloudy 40 degrees in the parking lot because when it was Bates’s turn to talk it was clear why they chose him to be a Shriner Patient Ambassador.
Being a bright, enthusiastic man who takes life in stride, modestly, he said, “I am so thankful and appreciative of what the Shriners have done for me and my family, today and for many years before.”
Bates is a very busy man keeping up with his high energy family, fighting the cancer that has moved into his lymph nodes, organizing Shriner parades to raise money for the hospitals, running a small event lighting business, and despite the amputation of his fingers he plays guitar, piano, and sings along with his wife in a Top 40 group called, Shot of Love.
He is currently recovering from colon cancer. Feel free to contact Bates at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.supportourshriners.com.