Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Welcome Back

Husband, sisters welcome Stephanie back
by Jaimee Rose - Oct. 27, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Last Tuesday, Christian went to the hospital to see Stephanie again. This time, her eyes were open.

Her doctors have begun to wake her, to lift Stephanie from the heavy sedation that's kept her sleeping for 10 weeks while doctors covered her burns with skin grafts.

"My wife's back! My wife's back!" Christian told the nurses.

Stephanie drifts in and out of consciousness, not yet fully aware of her situation and surroundings. She can nod yes and no. She tries to mouth words, but a tube in her throat keeps her from talking. When her family visits, they can make her laugh. When Christian was in her room, he watched her cry. They were happy tears. She'd missed him.

He touched her dark hair, which is beginning to grow back. He focused on her green eyes, which followed his movements.

"I'm here for you," he told her. "I love you. Things will be all right."

Stephanie's face is nearly free of bandages now, and after 19 surgeries, almost all of her burns are grafted, says Dr. Kevin Foster, one of the burn surgeons leading her care. Her new skin is patchy, red and scarred.

Her eyelashes have grown back, long and curling. Her lips are as full and lovely as before. She has one perfect ear, the other grafted and healing. Her eyelids will need some reconstruction, but her nose looks great, Foster says. She might get to talk to her family by Halloween. He looks at his patient, blinking and laughing, and is astonished, still.

Stephanie's strong, slender body has defied the complications that are expected with burns this severe: organ failure, infections. More than half the people who are burned as badly as Stephanie die, Foster says.

"I kept waiting and waiting for her to get sick," he says. "It never happened.

"I've been around long enough to know that something special is going on. I don't know what it is," Foster says, "but it's something."

A surprise

Lucy came to visit her sister on Friday. She was scared to see Stephanie, the sister who looks so like her. Lucy knew it would be hard. But she had something to say.
Stephanie was sleeping. Lucy waited for her to wake.

"I'm pregnant," she told Stephanie. Lucy and her husband are expecting their first baby in May.
"Steph, you've got to be there," Lucy told her. "You've got to just relax and get better so you can be there, and help me."

Stephanie cried, which made Lucy cry, too. Lucy cuddled up close to her sister, and their green eyes locked onto one another, their faces just inches apart. Lucy stayed that way for a long time, just staring.

"When she opens her eyes, she's there," says Lucy, 24. "It's wonderful, because it is her."

Christian goes home

Saturday was a big day. Christian was released from the rehabilitation center, and will be staying with his parents in Mesa while he heals and continues physical therapy.

A benefit concert was held Saturday night, and Courtney flew in from Utah with Stephanie and Christian's three oldest children: Claire, 6, Jane, 5, and Oliver, 3. Courtney is Stephanie's older sister, and has been caring for the kids at her home in Provo, Utah. They haven't seen their dad since the crash. They couldn't wait.

As soon as the car stopped in front of Christian's parents' home, Jane and Oliver jumped out and ran inside. Courtney had prepared the children for what they might see. Christian's hair is still growing, she told them, his face still a little red from second-degree burns, like a sun burn. There might be some scars, Courtney said.

Claire was afraid. Courtney's husband had to carry her inside.

"She had to just look at him," Courtney says, "and then she was fine."

Christian's therapists gave him Legos to work on stretching and strengthening his fingers. He got them out and played with his children. Oliver never left his side.

Sleep, pretty darling

That night, at the concert held to benefit their parents, Claire and Jane stood on a stage before nearly 1,000 people and sang their mother a lullaby.

They had practiced for weeks, but still Claire was nervous and stared at the floor. Jane was afraid she might cry. The Beatles' Golden Slumbers is the song their mother liked to sing to them.

Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise.

Sleep pretty darling do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby.

They held hands. They're sisters. They knew just how to help each other.

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