Location: Iowa, USA

Date Of Injury: 2003

Life is a delicate thing. Changing with every breath we take. Our job as humans is to adapt and to be strong through it all. I learned that at a young age. This is my story.

On May 13, 2003, at just four years old, my life changed forever. I went to blow out a candle, when a string on my sundress fell into the flame and started on fire. I did not think at the time to “Stop, drop, and roll” instead I ran. Unable to see, screaming in pain, struggling to breathe. I was trying to find my mom in the blur of smoke. Meeting halfway in the hall, she rushed me into the bathroom to take off my dress. I helped her take it off, and jumped into a cold shower. She ran to call my dad who was working a mile away at the time. He came rushing home to take me to the hospital. I was taken to my hometown hospital in Cherokee, Iowa.

Unfortunately, the hospital lacked the proper training or medical equipment to help me. I was sent by air ambulance to a medical facility in Sioux City, Iowa where I remained for three days until my lungs started to fail. I was in a semi-induced coma, batting aspirated pneumonia. My lungs were filling with fluid. The hospital was unable to c are for my failing lungs as well as my burn injuries, so they sent me to the next hospital. My parents were given two options for treatment: Ohio or Omaha. The answer was easy to them. I was flown to the Nebraska Medicine Burn Intensive Care Unit where I remained for 53 days. I was also placed in a coma for three weeks. During my stay, Nebraska Medicine plastic surgeon Dr. Debra Reilly informed my parents that 43 percent of my body suffered second and third degree burns. If I had been on fire any longer, I would have probably lost my arm and leg. I endured over 10 surgeries when being admitted for the first time.

I remember everything about this stay, even the time I was in the coma. The tub room was the worst memory of them all. As many survivors will tell you. I was sent to Heaven during this visit and got the chance to talk to Jesus. After being discharged from Nebraska Medicine, I went home for a few short weeks before heading to rehab at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb. I had to learn everything all over again. I was unable to do anything a normal four year old should do.

The hard time for me was going from this little girl able to do everything, to this girl that needed so much help. The saying, “you never know how strong you are until you only have the option to be strong” definitely showed while I was there. I was discharged a month later, going from wheelchair to running! I was lucky to be so young during this time to be able to relearn these vital things of survival.

I have been through 35 surgeries, with more to come. I have endured many years of bullying and harassment from classmates for being different than them. I turned down a bad path because of this. A very destructive and harmful path. I started self harming at a very young age of 4, first starting with picking and scratching, leading to cutting and self medicating. (I am now clean from self harm for many months!)

I have attempted to end my own life because I was in such a deep and dark place. Many years after my injury, I am now thriving. I attend Miracle Burn Camp at Camp Foster Okoboji where I meet many more survivors like myself, some even treated at the same hospital. I have attended World Burn Congress where I met survivors from all over the country and international. I started an organization called “Joy Bags by Kelsay” where I donate bags of toys, games and other supplies to hospitals to give to children to help brighten their days. I play sports such as football, soccer, softball, golf, volleyball and so much more. I go hunting with my dad, family and friends almost every year. I am in theater, Girl Scouts, student government, band and choir. I am working on changing the world one step at a time! I love sharing my story to help others, make them more aware of burn injuries and help them understand how to prevent them. I tell my classmates about my burns and inform them how to be safe. My dream job is to one day become a motivational speaker with a ministry degree. I do a lot of speaking and writings for many different places.

The Phoenix Society has even published my story before! I make youtube videos to bring light on many issues facing the world. My life motto on all this is “One person can change the world!” I have had my personal share of issues, life challenges, and many other things. I have changed from them all. I do donations for organizations, have my own personal business, as well as organization. I try to do all I can to give back to others. If I can make one person smile a day, then I did a good job that day!