This is the story of how my life was changed, before I could walk or talk, when all I knew was how to eat, sleep, cry, and open my baby eyes.
Ten years after completing high school, my father enrolled at the University of North Texas (UNT) as a full-time student while my mother worked to support them. Their hope was that a college degree would open the doors of opportunity, provide a stable income for their future family, and set an example for their children.
During his junior year, my parents found out they were having their first child—me!
I was born in October and my dad was scheduled to graduate in May of the following year, which meant my mom needed to return to work until the spring. They began searching for someone to watch after me while they were away during the day.
As typical first-time parents, they interviewed prospective candidates extensively, made sure to call references, and, of course, sought the advice and guidance of family and friends to ensure they were making the wisest possible choice. They selected a mature sitter who chose to care for just one infant at her home each year.
But the very first time my parents ever left me, when I was four weeks old, my life and my family’s lives were forever changed.
My caretaker had been instructed to gently warm the small bottle of breast milk by placing it under warm, running water or to set it inside a glass of warm water - gradually warming the frozen milk to room temperature and to preserve the beneficial properties of the breast milk. However, she was accustomed to using boiling water for warming bottles and, because the small bottle only contained a few ounces of breast milk, it immediately toppled over. While holding me in her arms, she picked up the pot of water to pour it in the sink and retrieve the bottle of milk, but in her haste, the boiling water was spilled directly onto my left leg.
My cloth diaper and clothing were immediately soaked, holding in the heat, quickly adhering to my entire leg. Unfortunately, the sitter’s first reaction was to remove them. I include this part of the story in case others encounter a similar situation. The proper protocol is to run cool water over the burned area (if water isn’t available, any cold, drinkable fluid can be used) or hold a clean, cold cloth on the burn (source).
Because burns are easily infected, I spent the next week of my life in isolation at the hospital, where it was determined that my burns were 2nd and 3rd degree. I received regular doses of morphine to control the pain and my first of several surgeries was scheduled for Day 4 of my hospital stay.
My parents never left my side, asked lots of questions, and learned all they could about the treatment of burns. Naturally, they were fraught with fear, but they had to trust that the doctors and medical staff were doing all they could to provide the best possible care for their precious baby girl.
Now that I'm old enough to fully understand the severity of the situation, I'm so proud of my parents. There were many sleepless nights in the hospital (and when we returned home), the fear of the unknown then and for my future, the anger toward the responsible party, etc. It's unimaginable to me, but they stuck together, held each other up, and when one was weak the other was strong. Amazing!
In the photos below, you see my father holding me on his chest and then my mother rocking me in the chair. The emotional toll it had to take on them watching their daughter suffer in so much pain, and yet, with the good Lord's strength, they were able to be strong throughout this journey and do what was required for me to heal.
Over the next 18 years, several additional surgeries were required, and I learned that I’m not a fan of hospitals, anesthesia, or the removal of stitches and staples! Physically, I still bear the scars of that fateful day, though they are permanent, they are much improved and the incisions are less noticeable.
Growing up, it was challenging—the surgeries, the crutches, the compression garments, the questions from friends, as well as strangers, about my scars. But with my incredible doctor, my faith, and the support from my wonderful family, I’ve healed and it’s part of what made me into the woman I am today.
“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” – Amy Bloom
I believe God has a specific plan for each of us. As a result of this terrible accident, it led my parents straight to the doors of the nearest church. My brother and I, in turn, learned about the grace of God and the gift of salvation at an early age. Ever since, throughout every surgery and every doctors appointment, we were able to find strength and peace in our Lord. We were also lucky enough to be surrounded by a wonderful church community throughout the years.
Although there were times when I wondered, “Why did it happen to me?” or “Why were the burns so bad?” My faith gave me the strength, courage, confidence, and ability to see my scars as a reminder of what really matters in life and how grateful I am to be healthy and alive.
When I participated in the Miss Kansas USA pageant in 2014, I was advised to cover my scars with makeup. “It won’t look good on stage,” or “Cover them up so the judges don't see.” Though those words deeply hurt, I chose not to take that advise because my scars, though not pretty, are part of me. Something others may see as a flaw—my battle scars—made me stronger and more beautiful as a woman. They’re part of my story.
It was the first time I’d ever participated in a pageant, and I placed in the Top 5, among some incredible women. Although I didn’t take the crown, I don’t believe my scars were a factor. It didn’t cripple my chances. Truth be told, every woman has a battle scar or two, whether visible or not. Our imperfections make us unique and tell our story. I’m proud of mine.
To Every Woman
“Someone will always be prettier. Someone will always be smarter. Someone will always be younger. But they will never be you.” – Anonymous
Regardless of your looks, your scars, your past, your waistline or calorie intake, your mistakes, or anything else you think may make you less than perfect, remember that none of us are perfect. Embrace your imperfections, because they make you, you.
And though I still get questions about my leg, I try to remember that people aren’t intending to be impolite or insensitive. Instead, I’m able to show them that my imperfections make me confidently and perfectly imperfect.
Celebrate whatever it is that makes you different, embrace your quirks, your scars or beauty marks. I share my story with you to encourage all of us to look at our imperfections differently. They are what make you, you. And no one else can ever be that.
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen
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