‘Her skin was gone. I can still hear her scream while gasping for air. What exactly happened that day?’: Sister of burn survivor takes confidence-boosting photo shoot, ‘Her flaws don’t define her’

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“My memories of that day are both vivid and blurry at the same time. I was ten years old and my youngest sister, Carissa, was 4 months old. I remember I was on the phone in the living room with my aunt who was working in Florida at that time. It was a Sunday morning and we were having family over for a get together for one of my brother’s birthdays. My dad was in the kitchen preparing things to cook, my mom had left for the grocery store, my two older brothers and older sister were sleeping late, my grandmother was on another house phone talking to my aunt with me, my two-year-old cousin was on the front porch playing with toys, and my baby sister was in there too sleeping in her car seat.

The front porch was my dad’s happy place, it wasn’t so much a ‘porch,’ but an enclosed room fully wrapped around in big windows on the front of our house. He loved that room so much he moved his coffee maker in there and he and mom would sit in their chairs every morning to drink their coffee with my baby sister in her seat next to them.

So, in the midst of all the different things going on that day, we suddenly heard my baby sister yell out in a loud shrieking cry. I remember my dad running quickly through the living room from the kitchen to get to her…and I blur out a little bit at this point of the story. The next thing I remember was my dad yelling, ‘Call 9-1-1!’ to my sister who was awakened by all the screaming… then I blur out again. My older sister, Sabrina, says she remembers dad screaming for her to call but she didn’t have any idea at the time what was going on. She recalls the dispatcher asking what the emergency was and she didn’t know what to tell her.

One of the most gut-wrenching parts of her recollection of that morning was she remembers my dad just screaming, ‘Oh no.’ My next memory is walking into the bathroom, terrified, where I saw a vision that is permanently printed, framed, and hung on the walls of my brain for the rest of my life. My dad, my sister, my brothers, and my grandmother all gathered around over the bathtub, my dad holding my baby sister in a cold-water bath, as instructed by the dispatcher on the phone. I peeked around them and saw Carissa; much of her skin was gone exposing only bright red flesh. I can still see her face bright purple and hear the loudest screaming cry I had ever heard, while also gasping for air.

Courtesy of Emily Rose Photography

At ten years old, it was really hard for me to grasp what I was seeing or know what to do. I feel like when people describe an out of body experience, that’s what it felt like… and at that point I blur out again. I do have a visual of the ambulance parked out in front of our house, but no memory of my sister being taken away or anything. She was rushed to two local hospitals and then airlifted to Shreveport. My next memories are my grandmother staying with us while my parents spent weeks at the hospital.

I don’t recall the moment my sister and my parents actually came home, but the next memory I can remember is when my parents were changing her bandages daily. My mom explained the process of bandage changing saying, ‘We tried to do it when you kids weren’t around because of how traumatic it all was. So, your dad would come home from work a few times during the day while you guys were at school. We would have to give Carissa pain medicine first, then take off all the bandages, clean her up, and put on the creams and fresh bandages. I had to hold her up and your dad would wrap. She would scream the entire time, but once we were done changing them, and she was wrapped back up, she was okay again.’

She thinks my memories of the bandage changing may have mostly come from the weekends, but now I have a new perspective of what they went through while trying to protect us other kids.

So, what exactly happened that day? My dad had just put a fresh pot of coffee on and stepped out for a minute to check things in the kitchen. You guys, accidents truly can happen in the blink of an eye. You can intentionally be safe and try to protect your children, but sometimes things you could never predict will happen.

Courtesy of Emily Rose Photography

While my dad stepped out, my two-old cousin, after observing the grown-ups pour coffee, decided to imitate what he had seen. While my dad was gone, he grabbed a toy cup, went over to the full, fresh pot of coffee, and pulled it down assumingely to pour coffee into his toy cup. The pot was obviously much too heavy for his little hands to hold and he dropped the entire pot of coffee on my baby sister whose seat was just below, beside my dad’s chair.

I can still picture the little yellow toy cup that he picked up laying in the chair. Carissa had 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-degree burns covering over 50% of her tiny 4-month-old body. We can’t recall the exact percentage, but it ranged between 50%-70%. The coffee pot hit her in the head and poured down the right side of her body. Two of her worst burns/scars are on her stomach and her upper thigh where her diaper held the pool of coffee in place in just those few split seconds before my dad got to her.

Courtesy of Emily Rose Photography

Tonight, I sat down with mom, dad, and Carissa. I put on a slideshow of our photoshoot and asked a few questions about the details of that day. My dad broke down very quickly into the story, having trouble getting his words out, explaining how they weren’t allowed to take the helicopter ride with her from Lake Charles to Shreveport, and once they arrived in Shreveport, they weren’t allowed to see her in ICU for 24 hours. It was clear that talking about it with us really brought him back to how painful that experience was.

Once they were able to see her, they could only see her for a few minutes at a time. After a few weeks the doctor, a friend of our family, decided that he would allow mom and dad to go home with Carissa. They taught them how to change her bandages and they had to go back to Shreveport every other day for a few weeks, then once a week, and so on after that. I didn’t know this detail of the story; Shreveport is 4 hours from my parent’s house so I can’t imagine what it was like to have to make that drive every other day.

One part of the story that no one can seem quite sure of was who contacted my mom at the grocery store. However, someone made the call to the store and they made an announcement for my mom over the loudspeaker. I can’t imagine what kind of sinking feeling she had at that moment. She left her grocery cart in the store and went straight to the nearest hospital to meet dad, Sabrina, and Carissa. Neither of the two local hospitals they were sent to were equipped to handle her extensive burns so that’s when they decided to airlift her to the burn center at LSU Health in Shreveport.

Courtesy of Emily Rose Photography

Mom says the moment they found out they would not be able to fly to Shreveport and they watched the helicopter fly away with her was the first time she broke down. They both mention how fast they drove to Shreveport, making it there in only a couple of hours.

You may or may not notice her scars when you see her in person, but let me tell you what you absolutely WILL see. You will see a sweet girl who never once carried herself like she was flawed or scarred, you’ll see a girl who always openly and happily answered questions when asked, ‘What happened to you,’ you will see a girl more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside (and she is GORGEOUS on the outside), you will see a girl who found a way to love her true self in a world that wants you to choose fake over real, you will see a girl who found confidence in her flaws when the world tells you to cover them up, and you will see a girl with a light shining so bright inside that it’s contagious to others.

Courtesy of Emily Rose Photography

Over the years, I’ve grown more and more proud to call this wonderful human my sister, and my friend. So, I was beaming with emotion and pride during this empowering photo shoot. Can you imagine being so confident having your photos taken with absolutely no makeup, hair undone, in simple jeans and a tank top PLUS openly exposing one of the most difficult parts of your life story? But I watched her face light up with a smile and her head shaking yes while she flipped through the photos on my computer.

Courtesy of Emily Rose Photography

After all the photoshoots I’ve done with her with a full face of makeup, styled hair, and outfits we spent weeks/months planning…this seems to be the photoshoot that she really loves the most! And that speaks volumes of her true character in my opinion. But hey, I am VERY biased. It’s been 18 years since her accident, and this weekend my sister will graduate high school, so the timing of it all feels so perfect.

Courtesy of Emily Guillory

I just want everyone to know, sharing her story was not meant to be sad, or gain pity…my sister wanted to share her story in order to empower! To show that her flaws don’t define her and yours don’t either. You were created just the way you are for a purpose and everything you’ve been through was carefully stitched into your story with good reason by The Creator of all. Carissa, I am so overwhelmingly proud of the young woman you have become! You are 10 years younger than me and still inspire me in so many ways! You have a beautiful heart and I cannot wait to see where life takes you from here on!

‘For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.’ Psalm 139:13-14

Courtesy of Emily Rose Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily Guillory. You can follow her journey on FacebookInstagram, and her blog. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from burn victims here:

‘You look like a snake. You’ll never get a boyfriend.’ I made up my mind the whole human race was beautiful, and I was ugly.’: Woman survives 4th degree burns after ‘hide and seek’ game gone wrong, learns to embrace unique beauty

‘I screamed, ‘We have guys trapped!’ I crawled out and ran while being burned alive.’: Man describes ‘pain, misery’ after surviving life-threatening burns working as firefighter

‘I was abandoned on a doorstep at 1 years old, burned. ‘Wen, we’d like to adopt you.’ I was given a second chance to live.’: Burn survivor adopted from foster care, ‘I’m so lucky to be alive!’

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