Sage’s Story


The flames that nearly killed her couldn’t touch an unconquerable spirit.

“See, when you first get burned, you can either look at it as ‘Oh, poor little me,’ and pity yourself for the rest of your life; or you can say, ‘A horrible thing has happened to me, but let’s make the best of it.’ And that’s what I try to do.”

With an optimism that never quits, at age 18 Sage Volkman, of the Bernalillo Ward, Albuquerque New Mexico Stake, has already been through more pain and trials than most people face in a lifetime. When she was five years old, Sage was burned beyond even her mother’s recognition. After Sage survived a terrible camping accident, the doctors predicted she would not live through the night. She did. And her recovery has been laced with remarkable blessings ever since that first night of survival.

Only six days before the accident, the Volkmans became members of the Church. Sage was only five then, but she anxiously awaited the time when she could be baptized. Her parents had investigated the Church for many years and found it hard to be baptized. “Sage is responsible for our baptism,” says Sage’s dad, Michael. He says she kept asking questions about God he couldn’t answer, and she wanted to go to church to find answers. He took Sage to a nearby LDS church because he had received a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon 10 years earlier when a friend had given one to him.

When Michael took Sage and her brother, Avery, camping that weekend after his family joined the Church, he had no idea how his family would be changed. He and Avery went fishing early one morning, and Michael had gone back to the camper to check on Sage, who was asleep. Five minutes later, the fishermen saw smoke rising from their campsite and they raced back. Sage’s dad had to pull her out of the burning camper from under melting sleeping bags. He resuscitated her, but he was so frantic he broke one of her ribs as he pumped on her chest. Michael was badly burned and had his hands and eyes in bandages as the ambulance rushed Sage to the hospital.

Sage had numerous third- and fourth-degree burns, and her nose and one ear were melted off. Doctors had to amputate her fingers because they were so badly burned. She was in a coma. One lung had collapsed. But, to the surprise of all the medical staff, Sage survived the night.

A few days later, Sage was moved to the burn unit of a New Mexico hospital. Again, there was little hope she’d make it through the night—only a 10 percent chance—but she survived and improved over the next two days. Then pneumonia struck. Sage’s condition deteriorated, and two weeks later she was flown to a burn institute in Texas, still in a coma. The doctors there said her survival through the night was a “big if.” They also said if she survived she would have vision loss, hearing loss, brain damage, chronic lung problems, and she would be unable to walk. Anything short of that would be a miracle.

Sage pulled through again with the help of numerous priesthood blessings. She also had the aid of loving parents and skilled doctors. One priesthood blessing she received promised full recovery and that she would be safe with her Savior until she was better. After a six-week coma, the blessing was fulfilled, and Sage was finally well enough to go home on December 23, 1986, after three months in hospitals.

Hundreds of letters, posters, stuffed animals, and lots of love came pouring in from all those who had been touched by Sage’s story. Sage’s life and positive attitude have touched many for good. Many of those who wrote told of how the story of Sage in the August 1989 Ensign had comforted or converted them. One missionary in Spain wrote, “I have nothing to be sad about. I now realize how small my trials are.”

Thirteen years, 64 surgeries, and lots and lots of friends later, Sage is doing better than ever. Defying all the doctors’ expectations, Sage walks, talks, sees, drives, and does so much more than that. She’s even going to take a kick-boxing class. She says it was her constant reliance upon the Lord which has allowed her to become who she is.

Sage doesn’t think her trials have been too hard to handle. “There’s tons of kids who have it worse,” she says. “It humbles you to see other people with problems.” Sage tries to help those who have it worse than she does. She volunteers at a camp for children who are burn victims and is on the board of directors of the Phoenix Foundation, an organization which helps burn victims.

A lot like many other LDS teens, Sage worries about school, works hard, plays hard, and has trouble waking up for early-morning seminary. She attends a high school where she is the only LDS student; she has lots of friends from her ward and her school.

Sage’s goal is to become a doctor. She plans to go to Ricks College in Idaho after she graduates from high school and then go into medicine. “It’s something that fascinates me,” she says. Why else would she read that huge medical book before she goes to sleep each night?

Despite, or perhaps because of, all she’s been through, Sage’s motto is “Never forget who you are, but always remember what you could become.” She says, “You shouldn’t deny what you are. If you do your best, then who knows the possibilities of what you could be and who you could be.”

“That’s kind of like me,” Sage adds, “because I could try to become someone else and deny this whole ordeal that I’ve been through, but I haven’t. I want to strive to be the best that I could possibly be. And I want to be a doctor. And there’s nothing that I can’t do so far.”

Sage knows she can do it with Heavenly Father’s help. She also wants to help as many people as she can along the way. “That’s all I can offer—my help and my testimony,” she says. “This is the true Church, and I know I wouldn’t be here today without it. I couldn’t even begin to count how many blessings I’ve received.”

Sage may still have physical scars, but her bishop, Bradley Greer, says, “Sage has got this personality about her, and you become oblivious to how scarred she is.” Many surgeries have restored Sage’s skin, nose, and ear, though not her fingers, since the accident 13 years ago. But the gospel has done its part in healing her pain too, she says, and it continues to uplift her each day.

[photos] Photography by Shanna Ghaznavi

[photo] Sage was so badly burned in the accident that doctors didn’t think she would survive the night. But they could only see the physical damage, not the strength within. That strength continues to serve her well as she reaches out to help others.

[photo] The 13 years since the accident have brought 64 surgeries, but they have also brought an ever widening circle of friends. Sage works to help other burn victims and has set a goal to become a doctor. So far, she says, “there’s nothing I can’t do.”