On Sept. 15, 1984, two weeks into her senior year of high school, Kim, 17, and her family went to some friends’ house for dinner. There was a marshmallow roasting pit right in their backyard. The fire was dying, so Kim’s boyfriend told a guest to pour some more fuel on the fire to stoke it up. There was only one problem — that can had just a little fuel left in it so the fumes ignited, causing the fuel in the can to explode; the bottom of the can blew out completely, sending an enormous fireball Kim’s way. She covered her face and she thought, “Stop, Drop and Roll,” and that’s what she did, rolled on the ground. Then lots of blankets were thrown on her by her parents and the homeowners and her sisters to get all the flames out. The teen who poured the fuel was burned very, very bad. Kim’s boyfriend suffered very serious burns, too.
The ambulance immediately took them to the Bellingham (Washington) hospital and then quickly sent them on to Harborview Medical Center burn unit in Seattle. Kim was burned over 65 percent of her body. Her boyfriend died 10 days later. Even though Kim was very bad off and fighting for her life, she knew he had died. My mom said it was a difficult funeral because Tim was so young and it was hard to accept the whole tragedy.
A third degree burn cannot heal by itself. It has to be replaced with skin grafts. Kim is 100 percent scarred because all that skin that did not burn is where they took (or harvested) the skin from to cover the burned areas of her body. A skin graft is a special thing they do when you get burned. Doctors take skin from non-burned places and then staple it to the places where you are burned badly. With burns, a person shrinks on the outside and then swells from the inside, so you cut off your own circulation. As horrible as it sounds, doctors had to slice Kim’s arms open to take away all the pressure and let the blood flow.
Right after she arrived at the Seattle hospital Kim’s throat swelled up and shut. She was without oxygen for several minutes and was considered “technically dead” until the emergency room staff performed an emergency tracheotomy to save her life. That is where they place a breathing tube right through the outside of your throat.
That began a long, painful journey of skin graft surgeries and therapy. Daily debreeding and tanking sessions took place where nurses scrape and peel off all the dying tissues so she could fight off infections and allow the good skin to heal.
“When you have burns your body wants to constrict up into a fetal position ball,” Kim said.
To make sure that her arms and legs stayed stretched out, her legs were tied down, she had to wear a neck brace and have her arms tied down. They also put steel pins through each of her fingers and wrists to keep them separated. Eventually, they had to amputate her left thumb and finger because they were too badly burned to heal. Later, her second toe was removed to give her a thumb.
Kim had hours and hours of physical therapy to learn how to walk, brush her hair, feed herself and dress herself again. She spent 95 days in the hospital and just five days before Christmas the doctors let her come home.
“I came home with one ear, nine fingers, bright red skin and I was bald,” Kim said. “Have you ever heard the saying ’looks aren’t everything?’ Well, that isn’t what society says.”
When she would go out to dinner or go to the mall many rude people would say “what are you doing in public?” or “what happened to your face?”
Four months later, when Kim finally went home, people would sometimes say very mean things. They would yank their kids away and say more rude things.
“I spent hours crying over what people said. It has not been an easy road, but God has been so good to me,” Kim stated.
Now, Kim gets to go and travel to burn conferences all over the United States and speak to doctors and kids and tell them that everything can eventually be OK. She said she has so much to be grateful and thankful for.
“I am always trying to tell my children, Mikayla and Hunter, to look on the inside of people and they should never judge somebody by the outside,” emphasized Kim.
That is why she is my hero. She looks to the heart, not on outside beauty.
I am writing about Kim not only because she and my mom are best friends (they have known each other “since the womb”) but because she is a hero. Not a Superwoman or a basketball player or a movie star, but a different kind of hero.
Even though Kim was in a situation, being burned, that could have left her bitter and angry, she has turned it into good. Now, she goes back to Harborview’s burn unit and talks to people who have been burned. She shows them that life can be good and “normal” again. She helps kids who have been burned by going to their classrooms and talking to their classmates. She tells them their friend is still the same person on the inside. Kim volunteers for the Starlight Foundation and helps make sick kid’s wishes come true. Kim speaks to doctors all across the country to try and help them understand their patients’ feelings and fears better.
I have known Kim all my life. My mom told me I did not even notice Kim was burned until I was about 8 and then I heard them talking about it. I asked “what happened to Kim?” My mom said, “Didn’t you know Kim was burned?” I said I knew Kim’s skin was different, but I just thought “that’s the way she is!” To me Kim is nice and kind and funny and she loves me. It doesn’t matter what her skin looks like. It matters that she is a good person on the inside and God has made her just right. She is my hero.