Andrea’s continuing journey is a celebration of the human spirit, of triumph over great odds. After her horrendous burn injury she hung onto life in the burn ICU in Salt Lake City with a very strong determination because she didn’t want to leave little Emily without a mama and because there were still so many things she wanted to do—and she’s doing them. She’s raising her kids and living an active life.
Her miracle baby, Charlie, was born August 24, 2001, a little less than 14 months after her accident. Emily and Charlie were later joined by a baby sister, Samantha, on January 15, 2003. At that time our local hospital was having some internal problems and no doctors here were delivering babies. Andrea and Mark had to drive more than 100 miles over snowy mountain roads to the nearest hospital. Fortunately they got out of our valley just ahead of a bad snowstorm and made it safely to Arco, Idaho, where little Sammy was born. Lynn and I took care of Emily and Charlie while they were gone, but Andrea insisted on coming home the very next day after the baby was born. Big sister Emily proudly held the new baby and wanted to help take care of her.
Having 3 young children kept Andrea very active and busy. These activities were good physical therapy for regaining and keeping full range of motion in her limbs, even though she was often exhausted. She also planted a garden for several summers; working in it gave her a chance to be out of the house—which for an outdoor person was good for her spirit and peace of mind. Whenever she could, she also came back out to the ranch to see her horses and the cattle.
Physical disabilities and health problems are an ongoing challenge for her, but she rarely lets these get her down. She had to go back to Salt Lake in September 2003 to the cancer center, for mole mapping, to keep track of proliferating mole tissue on her legs that was inadvertently transferred from her back to her legs with the skin grafts. She also had one leg checked at the burn center because of constant pain (and toes numb and cold) and poor circulation in the foot.
She had several other problems that fall and winter with headaches and dizziness, pain around her collarbone, and chest pains. She made several trips to the local emergency room. Little Emily stayed with Lynn and me for 10 days in November when Andrea wasn’t physically up to taking care of all 3 children. Doctors here and in Salt Lake did a number of tests and never could pinpoint the cause of these problems, but they did discover that 3 inches of one jugular vein was completely blocked. The human body is truly amazing, however. The blood circulation had rerouted, creating a new vein that goes toward the center of her neck, bypassing the blocked jugular. She also has a big vein in one leg that has become an artery, creating a new route for one of the major arteries that was destroyed by the burn injury.
Our bodies are amazing in how they can adjust and adapt. Andrea’s damaged body is truly a miracle. She knows she will always have physical problems and impairments from her injuries (such as her scarred and damaged lungs which were injured in the fire and by subsequent bouts of pneumonia), and she’ll have to face continuing and new challenges over time, yet she rejoices in being alive. She can live with the inconveniences and hardly ever talks about them; the people around her rarely know the constant pain she lives with. She’s put it all into perspective. What to most of us would be terrible and devastating, she takes in stride because she was given the chance to keep going.
Her skin is still fragile, but she wears her burn scars beautifully. She’s not afraid to wear shorts and sleeveless shirts. She doesn’t let her impairments or disfigurement hinder her in what she wants to do, and often uses these as a stepping stone toward helping other people. The visible aspects of her injury open doors for her to connect with other burn survivors or to help people try to understand or deal with injuries and disabilities.
Since she is not a bit self-conscious about her scars, she puts others at ease. She has a special touch with other people who are going through suffering. Her scars establish instant credibility as one who has “been there” and they know she understands what they’ve been through. People with serious problems or handicaps are more open to her, more willing to tell about their own situations, and to be helped and encouraged by her, because of her own experience with trauma and her tough spirit.
Some people may stare at her burn scars or may be uncomfortable at first meeting her, not knowing how to relate to a burned person. But if they talk with her they soon get past their initial hesitancy because Andrea is a person who exudes life and vitality. The inside person shows through so strongly that the outside appearance doesn’t matter. She is who she is, defined by her spirit, and not by her impairments.
She is a constant inspiration for the rest of us, especially when we get impatient with life, with others, with ourselves, or overly concerned about trivial things. Now and then we all need to stop and think how blessed we are, and not worry about the little things that often bother us. The lessons I learned during the summer of 2000 were not easy, when I nearly lost my daughter, but now I thank God for those insights and the times I am truly at peace with life—those islands of calmness, joy, and thankfulness amidst the daily hurries and worries of everyday life.
Sometimes I have to be reminded of these lessons. I never want to forget. Some people might think I’d want to forget—and indeed, the sharp edge of that trauma has faded a bit with time—but the lessons about what’s important in life are too valuable to forget. That experience helped to strip away the superficial, unnecessary (and even detrimental) baggage we carry around, peeling me down to the essence of what is truly important in my life.
It’s all too easy to momentarily forget and slip back into old ruts, being preoccupied with the mundane stuff, but thanks to the extreme nature of those lessons, lots of little reminders can instantly jerk me back to my true priorities. I don’t want to ever lose this broader perspective because it sets me free from the superficial worries and problems of life, and all the false priorities we tend to heap up.
I still tend to worry too much about my daughter’s impairments and on-going problems, but when I put it all in God’s hands I can rejoice in the fact that she is still here, a part of our family, and has blessed us with beautiful grandchildren. I can take each day and be thankful for it, rejoicing in God’s love and mercy.