Monday, November 2, 2009

The Fire

This is the beginning story of a near death, life changing accident.

I almost died on St. Patrick's Day 2008. The doctors honestly don't know how I lived through it. Due to amnesia of the event I cannot tell you how it happened but I can tell what has been told to me.

Around 1am on March 17th the fire alarms in my parents home went off. My mother and father jumped out of bed and ran into the living to see nothing on fire but instead to see smoke coming from upstairs where my room was. My mother ran upstairs and saw me lit up on fire. i had collapsed to my knees and folded my arms across my chest. She first yelled out to me to get down on the floor and roll.  But I wasn't responding. Nor was I screaming out for help. So she grabbed a blanket off my bed, threw it around me and put the fire out that had consumed my body. My mother then ran downstairs to call 911 and my father went upstairs to be with me. My clothes were pretty much completely burned off of me and as I lay there on the floor barely conscious, with my dad kneeling next to me not knowing what he could do for me, he said I opened my eyes, looked at him, and very softly whispered, "I'm sorry, daddy." My mother started to come back upstairs but my father yelled down to her not to come up.  She didn't understand why and my father didn't give her a reason that night. But later, he told her it was because he was sure I was going to die right there before help got there or I wouldn't survive any further help and he didn't want my mothers last memory of me to be what he was looking at as he knelt beside me.

The first person on the scene was an old friend of mine from High School who is now a cop and she ran into the house and up the stairs to me. The paramedics then arrived and tried to get me stable but they were having trouble getting me to breathe. So they had to manually use the airbag to keep me breathing the entire life-flight out to the Oregon Burn Center, which is nearly impossible. Once there, they worked quickly to clean the burn off and see how extensive the damage was.  As soon as they knew what the damage was, the doctor came out to talk to my parents about how badly I was burned and what was going to happen next with the extent of my injury regarding surgeries, what the surgeries would do to help me, an estimate of how long I may be hospitalized, what I will go through while in the hospital to get better and basically what it means to have a burn injury and what it will mean for me and the rest of my life with a burn injury like mine. I was then taken from the OBC to the main hospital of Legacy Emanuel to undergo emergency surgeryto save my life. 

I did survive. But the doctors were all completely amazed that I did with the severity and extent of the burn injury i incurred. In that first surgery I lost 7 pints of blood; the body holds 8 pints. They said their only likely guess for why I survived was because of my young and very healthy heart. I was in impeccable shape - I weighed around 103lbs, 11% body fat, ran at least 6 or 7 miles a day, weight training as well as classes like yoga, Pilates, hot yoga, and spinning class. I also ate insanely healthy and was a personal trainer and nutritionist when living in both Portland, OR and New York City. The doctors contributed these things to my survival.  They said had my heart not been as healthy as it was or I as young as I was (I was 26yrs old), I would not have survived. 

I was then held in the Oregon Burn Center (Portland, OR) where I was in a coma for a month and underwent 4 surgeries in that first month.  I stayed in the Burn Center for almost four months enduring 6 surgeries in total for skin grafts.  They often had a hard time with me with getting my grafts to take. Too many times my body would reject the graft(s). This was just the beginning of learning that my body is unique...and not a good kind of unique. My body does not heal properly causing intense scars, scar bands and contractures that are hard, have no kind of pliability to them in the least bit and they grow in my body like a spiders web. And NOTHING fixes them absolutely. I've gone through several release surgeries multiple times on the same part of the body and have followed up with physical therapy and after a time, the scars and contractures shorten and tighten up just as they were before. It causes a great deal of pain and suffering and frustration.

After 3.5 months recovering in the OBC, I went to the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon where i underwent more physical therapy and scar tissue massage. After 3 weeks there, I finally got to go home.

Since then I have gone through a very tough time. This was a devastating injury and has changed my life dramatically. I have now, as of this post, undergone 16 surgeries and have unknown more years worth of repair. I also now have a plastic/burn reconstruction surgeon working with me.

I am completely devastated about my life because it has ended my acting and singing career which i was well on my way to in New York City where I had been living for 3 years before the accident. Now i am 27 and living at home with my parents because i have to be taken care of. I have limited mobility in my arms so it makes it hard to do simple daily tasks. I also have to endure painful physical therapy as well as difficult mental therapy. I think I cry at every session because of how devastating this has been for me. I lost everything. My life was taken from me in a split second.  Everyday, I think about how I list it all, how I have nothing now. I avoid mirrors line they are the plague because looking at myself makes me both physically and emotionally sick, not to mention, I simply don't recognize myself anymore. I am in constant mourning of everything I lost - my life, my independence, my physical self and above everything, my dreams. 

So here I am, now in a halo after my latest surgeries where they released my neck (removed the scar tissue) as well as my elbow and wrist (right). I was in the hospital again for a month and underwent 4 different operations in that month. Two on my neck and one on my elbow and one on my wrist. Before the operation on my neck, the scar tissue was so bad it had contracted me all the way down to my chest, as if my chin was attached to my chest. I had no neck and no chin and my lip was burned as well so it was pulled from the contraction in my neck. But now after the latest surgery, my head is up and i can finally see up and in front of me! The only problem is, I hate this Halo. It prevents me from moving my head at all and they have me in this to prevent the contractures from coming back right away. There is still a possibility they can come back but i have to do intense therapy to prevent it. Dr. Vangelisti also said I will probably have to have another release surgery on my neck again but it will be much more minor. I have about 2-3 more weeks in this halo and then i get it off. I have been in it for 2 months now and it has been excruciating and annoying. I can't wait to get it off so I can use my new neck!

I have had incredible family support and while i was in the hospital it was amazing the letters and stuffed animals i received from both people i knew and people i didn't know. People had started a medical fund in my name to help with medical expenses. It was absolutely amazing. But what hit me the most was the people i thought would be there for me, weren't. And the people I never thought would be, were.

But thank you to all of you who helped with my medical fund and sent cards and letters and stuffed animals! You all mean the world to me and I love you all.

This is just the beginning of my story.


Kim Wood Nolan said...

What a terrifying experience. Do they have any idea how the fire started? It's amazing to have lived through that and hopefully it will get better with each surgery.

Erin said...

You are such an incredible inspiration, Sarah. I'm beginning to heal from my life experiences and you inspire me because if you can survive that then why shouldn't I be able to survive mine? I love that we have gotten back into contact and I cannot wait to see you, hug you and talk with you! I am glad you're doing better and I know that in a year or so, we will be on the beaches of the French Riviera and this will all be a shadow in your past. Keep strong, my love, because I know you can.

Much love,

Robert said...

As i was on facebook your name and picture came up and i knew i remembered you. I saw your blog and started to read everything. Your story is a couragous one but one that i know all to well. I had a tragic accident myself that stopped me from doing what i loved. I was hit by a log working as a logger over a summer during college. It crushed every bone on the left side of my body fractured my skull and left me paralyzed for a year and in a coma for 3 months. I was told that i would never walk again and i would need to change everything in my life and accept my fate. I wouldn't accept that i fought long and hard and bounced back. I had to learn to do everything again, walk, talk, eat everything but i did it. Never give up and never surrender. Work hard and keep moving forward and you will get to where you want to be. If you ever want to talk about anything you can send me a message on facebook. I can be a good ear and just remember that you are beautiful and strong and can do anything that you put your mind and heart into.

Keep your head up

Robert Hull