On November 6, 2016, in Tahlequah, OK, my husband, myself and our 8 year old daughter was doing some driveway work on a tractor. Shovels in hand, my daughter, Ashlynn and myself were helping move dirt around as my husband was operating the tractor. We been working on it for a good solid 2 hours when Ashlynn said she wanted to go inside to get a drink and a snack. I told her to go on inside and we would be done in about 10 minutes. As we finished up, my husband and I started walking up to the house when we heard a very loud Boom. We ran inside to find Ashlynn and did not see her immediately. We called out to her and at that point we heard loud screams coming from our bedroom area. We both ran as fast as we could to see what had happened. As we walked into our bedroom, Ashlynn was coming out of our bathroom toward us, screaming on fire from the waist up. My husband acted very quickly and grabbed her smothering out the fire. The bathroom was still on fire and we were luckily able to distinguish it before it consumed our whole house. Her long brown hair was fried as if someone had stuck a finger in an electrical socket just like in the movies. She was burned on her head, face, ears, hands, and legs. She was cut all over her body from the bits of glass from our shower door that had blown all over her. She was totally coherent and able to walk and talk. We asked her what had happened and she kept repeating over and over, I’m sorry momma, I thought it was a candle. Now, Ashlynn has always known better than to play with matches, lighters or anything to do with fire. She was very well informed about fire safety. She had found an old fire cracker that was kept as a souvenier from at least 15 to 20 years prior to her birth and our marriage. It looked similar to a candle. When she lit it, she said it sizzled for a second and then began to burn very slowly. Immediately she knew that this was no candle. She tried to put out the firecracker with a towel and quickly, chain of events began that would change her life forever.
She lit the firecracker with a wooden match on our very small bathroom vanity. Just so happened she lit it on my side of the vanity where many bottles of hair product, lotions, soaps, perfumes and most importantly, aerosol cans. One was a hairspray can and the other a brand new can of spray deodorant. When the fire began to take over the vanity area, the fire and heat ignited the deodorant can. The can blew up into the attic of the house causing the explosion. The concussion of the explosion caused the glass shower doors to shatter and blow all over her. The glass also punctured the hair spray can causing hairspray to fall all over her. The explosion was so fast and so powerful that it caused a flash fire to catch her on fire. We grabbed her up and immediately drove her to our local ER. She was talking and coherent the whole time but complaining of not being able to see. She had blood all over her along with her burns. Once she was admitted, she was sedated and intubated. Our local hospital was not equipped to handle matters like this especially since she was a child. She was life flighted from our hometown Tahlequah, OK to the closest largest city equipped to handle burns and children. Tulsa, OK. We arrived at the best burn center in Tulsa and she was accessed. We were informed that they were an Adult burn center and were not equipped to handle children, besides, they said, they felt this was more of a trauma case than a burn issue. She was loaded back up into an ambulance and transported a few miles down the street to a Children’s hospital. She was accessed there as well and we were informed that they were not really a burn center, but she had trauma from a piece of glass that had penetrated her eye.
The burns to them seemed unimportant. We knew better, but we knew that her eye was the most pressing issue at the time. She also had numerous shrapnel wounds all over her chest leaving holes all over her. Basically, this hospital, I feel, let her cook as far as her burns were concerned. This hospital had an eye specialist come in to look at her eye. We were informed that she would need a retina specialist and there was not one located in Tulsa. The eye doctor was not sure exactly what was in her eye because he said it was not really showing up well on Xray.
After spending over 24 hours in this hospital with very little regard to her burns, we were told that the closest eye specialist and the best was in Oklahoma City, OK an hour and a half from Tulsa. So we made the decision to go there. She was loaded up once again in an ambulance and transported to Oklahoma City to a Children’s hospital. Before we were set to go though, we were met by 2 men that were local Shriner’s. They spoke to us about the services they offered and said they could have our daughter on a jet the same day to the closest burn center for children in Galveston, TX. We thought about it. A lot actually, but we needed to get her eye addressed as soon as possible.
We arrived in Oklahoma City and she was accessed. This was a hospital that cared. They paid very close attention to her burns as well as her eye. The same day we arrived, the hospital had surgery lined up that night with the eye institute specialists. 5 hours later, after surgery was over, it was a piece of glass the size of a pea that was removed. They were able to remove it all and suture it up to prevent infection. They were a great team. That hospital, the eye institute all the staff. After her eye was addressed, we talked with the plastic surgeon. Ashlynn’s burns were not the most severe but the worst was on her face. She suffered burns over 30 percent of her body.
Some were deep nearly 3rd degree around her face but mostly, 2nd degree partial thickness. The surgeon was very honest with us. He said they were more than equipped to handle her case for her burns and her eye, but he was especially concerned with her face and being a female. He asked us what our thoughts were and we mentioned that we were considering The Shriner’s Burns Hospital in Galvestion,TX
Without batting an eye he highly suggested us to go that route. The last hospital that was of no help at all were very opposed to the idea. The doctor even said that she didn’t need to be in a place with a bunch of adults. He was clearly misinformed, Shriner’s help children!!
That very day the team at the children’s hospital began to put into motion the plan to get our daughter to Galveston. The next day, it had been 4 days since post burn, we were scheduled to fly to Galveston, TX to the Shriner’s Burns Hospital for Children. Only one parent could go, so I went while my husband drove. We were transported by ambulance again to the Oklahoma City airport to board an Eagle Med jet. We boarded the jet with 2 medics and the pilot. These were some of the best people we had met too. So caring and supportive. We had a 2 and a half hour flight to Galveston airport. About 30 minutes into our flight I was given food they had picked up for all of us from Jimmy Johns. I even got to ride shot gun with the pilot as a co-pilot! This made my day in a very very dark time of our lives. It didn’t seem long before we arrived at the Galveston airport and were met by another ambulance that would take us the 7 miles to the Shriner’s hospital. The driver was so nice and made me feel good.
We arrived at the hospital and she was taken in very quickly, professionally and accessed once again. That evening, she was scheduled for skin grafting. She had Xenografting (pig skin) on her hands and Amnion was applied to her face. They were very admimant about getting her off the vent tube as well and did so the very next morning. That was the first time in 5 days since the accident that I was able to hear her little voice. What a tears of joy that was. The nurses, doctors and staff are top notch there. We were treated so well. The grafts on the hands progressed well, and the amnion worked wonders on her face around face and neckline. The forehead was still a concern to her surgeon though and he suggested we do an autograft (her own donor skin)
The surgery took almost 5 hours. Within days you could see amazing progress. We were in that hospital for a month. She did wonderfully in her progress. So well, in fact, she was able to go outpatient and be able to stay with us in the travel trailer we had borrowed from my parents. We had appointments twice a week. I took care of the awful task of bathing and debridement. After our 2nd week of outpatient she was doing so well, we were released to go home! We still go back every 3 months for check ups. It’s almost like being home there. We owe our lives to all those that made a difference in the remarkable recovery she had.
Now, she’s got her hair growing back, enjoying school and back to riding her dirt bike once again. She will be back on the race track as soon as her eye is fully healed from the 3 surgeries she endured. She is partially blind in one eye, but she has learned to compensate very easily. She is doing better with the stares and questions. She has come a long way and has been so strong and resilient. We are very excited to get to attend our very first World Burn Congress in Dallas, TX in October this year. This will be the first time out of burn centers that she will be able to meet and hear other’s stories. It has almost been a year since the accident, but we have all become very strong as a family and overcome diversity.
We thank God every day we still have our little miracle in our lives. Much love to you all enduring a burn injury. Know it does get better. We have each other that share similar journeys and struggles dealing with the aftermath of a burn injury.