I was baking cookies for lunch in our Portland, Oregon, home when I heard children’s alarmed voices from down the street. I looked up to see my son Brad, nearly seven, stumbling through our doorway on the verge of collapse. As I stared at his scarlet face and scorched clothing, the smell of burned flesh and hair came to me. Panic engulfed me. I ran for a clean bedsheet, and as I wrapped the cloth around Brad’s little body, the children explained that a friend had invited Brad to crawl under a deck to watch what happened when you pour gasoline on a fire. I called my mother to come and pick up my girls, ages 5 and 10, then lifted Brad carefully into the car and drove to the hospital.
My husband, Darrell, and our home teacher met me in the emergency room. Doctors told us our son had third-degree burns over two-thirds of his face, arms, neck, and a strip across his back. After Brad was stabilized, and before he was wheeled to the isolation unit, Darrell and our home teacher gave him a priesthood blessing, the first of many, which gave us hope and comfort.
Darrell and I took turns sitting with Brad around the clock. I would spend the day at the hospital; then after work Darrell would come and stay the night sleeping in a chair. One evening Mother brought our two daughters to the hospital. Dressed in masks and gowns much too large for them, they stood by Brad’s bedside and gave him their love and support. Soon we began to hear that ward members, friends, and even people we hardly knew were praying for Brad.
Doctors kept close watch on him and saw that his bandages were changed daily, a sometimes painful affair. One of their first concerns was Brad’s eyes, and we rejoiced when they told us he still had sight. After two weeks, a specialist from the Oregon Burn Center was called in to evaluate Brad’s condition. He recommended Brad be moved immediately to the burn center, where they were better equipped to deal with his injuries. As they placed Brad in the ambulance, I was shocked anew at his appearance in the bright light of day. A chill gripped me, and my heart cried out, My poor child!
The doctors at the burn center told us Brad would need to stay two or three months. They had many concerns. One of the most serious was the formation of excessive scar tissue in his left eye that might prevent it from opening properly. Another concern was that scar tissue would cause one of his ears to fold over.
I had always had an interest in nutrition, so I sought permission from the hospital to plan Brad’s meals. I saw to it that he had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and other wholesome foods. One day the dietitian commented to the doctor that not only were Brad’s meals well balanced and nutritious but also that he was actually eating them. Most burn victims become depressed and eat little, retarding their healing process. It soon became clear that Brad was making rapid progress.
As he improved, so did my spirits. I became more optimistic and cheerful—so much so that some of the hospital staff wondered if I truly understood the seriousness of Brad’s condition. I was asked to speak with the staff psychologist. He was somber as he spoke of Brad’s burns. Did I understand that Brad would never again look the way I remembered him? he asked. Then he began giving me facts about third-degree burn victims, facts he felt I was not facing honestly. Brad, he said, would be unrecognizable as the little boy I remembered.
Unrecognizable! My mind recoiled, and I wondered how misshapen he might be. My soul cried out, No! That can never be! My son is a future missionary for the Lord Jesus Christ! My husband and I, both returned missionaries, had begun Brad’s mission savings account two days after his birth. How could someone bearing the deformities of heavy scarring knock on the doors of strangers and deal with their startled looks? How could he comfortably teach investigators?
I left the hospital that night with a heavy heart and returned home. As I opened the door and walked into the front room, my eyes fell on a photograph of Brad with his young, flawless face, and my tears began to flow. I sank into a chair, dropped my head into my hands, and prayed fervently, “Dear Father, whatever it takes to have a recognizable son, I will do it. Whatever it takes, I will do it.” As I ended my prayer, a sweet sensation flowed through me, and I felt that it was OK to be optimistic and cheerful, that Brad would not be completely unrecognizable, and that when the time came he would indeed serve a mission.
This spiritual comfort, one of many that came during those days, sustained and supported me through the long healing process that lay ahead.
We were faced with many important decisions that would allow no second chances. For example, with so much of Brad’s face burned, the doctors proposed skin grafts. As we prayerfully contemplated what to do, we felt that grafting was not right for Brad, and against the experts’ advice, stood firm. Only Brad’s arms received grafts. In time skin buds appeared on his face, giving us hope that new skin might be forming.
About three weeks after Brad entered the burn center, the doctor surprised us by releasing him to go home—nearly two months early. This unexpected blessing seemed an answer to many prayers for his recovery. Once he left the hospital, Brad had to wear an antiburn scar support pressure bandage made from an elastic fabric that fit over his head. Though he had to wear it both day and night for a year, he never complained, even when people stared. Gradually he returned to normal activities.
School posed one of our first challenges. A few days before the school year began, Brad came into the house upset. He had been riding his bike on the school grounds, and the children had laughed at him and made fun of him. We decided to look into other options for schooling and finally chose a Christian private school. Several days after school started that fall, Brad came home all smiles. Not only had the children treated him respectfully, they had also included a prayer for his recovery while blessing the food at lunchtime. The daily prayers of those children became a great blessing in Brad’s life.
A year later Brad was able to remove the head bandage. His eye had only minimal scarring that made it look a bit swollen. His ear had not folded over after all, and Brad’s features were still intact. He looked fairly normal, although his skin had a mottled and uneven texture as if he had skidded on gravel. Over time, his appearance continued to improve. Happily, he still looked very much like the same Brad we remembered.
In the years since, Brad has faced many challenges and achieved many successes. When he entered high school, he returned to the public school system. On one occasion during his high school years, a doctor removed a small portion of scar tissue from his face and asked why we had not used skin grafts on Brad.
I honestly replied that we had prayed about it and felt not to. “Well,” said the doctor, “in this case it was the correct way to have handled it. Grafting would have made a patchwork out of his face.”
Looking at Brad today, it is difficult to believe the extent of the burns he once received. Those scars that do show have not affected his natural outgoing, fun-loving personality. Before he was 18 he earned his Eagle Scout award. At his court of honor many commented on his optimism and his ability to reach out to shy or younger boys and draw them into activity. That same year Brad was voted “Best Personality of the Senior Class.” A year after graduation he left to serve a mission in Illinois.
I will always remember the night I prayed, promising to do whatever it would take to help my son heal from his accident, both physically and mentally, so that he could serve as a missionary. As my husband and I sought the Lord’s help to do this, we never felt alone to face difficult decisions, and we found the strength to do whatever it takes to meet the challenges of life.