Mineral family on the long road to recovery
The Comer family–Christiana (l to r) Steve, Michelle and Christopher–have made it out of the hospital but have a long road to full recovery.
A Mineral family recently reunited after a horrific Memorial Day vacation accident left them separated in the hospital for nearly two months.
The Comers spent weeks strapped into hospital beds while doctors treated them for second- and third-degree burns after the family recreational vehicle exploded when a propane tank leak ignited.
The four family members, who were inside the vehicle at the time of the incident, returned home in late-July and are recovering with support from locals and others around the world.
“The outpouring of love defies my power of description,” said Christiana Comer, wife to Steve and mother of Michelle, 14, and Christopher, 11.
She added that the family’s story has gone viral throughout the international Christian community.
The family has received hundreds of letters from people across the globe that usually begin the same way.
“You don’t know me but …,” said Steve, adding the letters always end with “they are praying for us.”
But the Comers said they don’t know how they would make through the difficult and painful recovery process without the support of their local church family.
Members of Elk Creek Baptist Church–where Steve serves as the choir director and plays piano, organ and keyboards–stop by the family home regularly to check in on their recovery and help with cooking, cleaning and other simple tasks.
While the four family members suffered severe burns on various parts of their bodies, they each received third-degree burns on their hands and arms.
The effects of recent skin graft surgeries makes tasks such as buttoning a shirt or opening a door nearly impossible.
“My biggest problem is with the childproof caps [on prescription bottles],” said Michelle who is taking several pain medications for burns covering 20 percent of her body. “They’re patient proof. It’s frustrating.”
The new skin–taken from donor sites on their own bodies–isn’t flexible–yet.
But painful, daily hand exercises and repeated moisturizing will change that over time.
The family must keep the extremely sensitive grafted skin covered to prevent infection, and for the mother and two children, exposure to sunlight–even for short periods of time– is prohibited for nearly one year.
“Our wish is to have normal skin again,” Christiana said.
It could take up to five years before the family can enjoy outdoor activities such as working in the garden or on their small farm, or going camping again.
The Comers, who love being outdoors, had never visited Williamsburg and thought that a Memorial Day trip to the area would be a perfect way to spend the holiday.
On May 25, the family enjoyed their first relaxing evening in their RV and Christiana said she turned the propane stove off after cooking the dinner.
Hours later–not knowing there was a leak somewhere in the fuel system–the mother returned to the stove to make popcorn for the family.
“Kaboom!” Christiana remembered hearing after striking the match. “The whole thing burst into flames.”
The mother took the brunt of the blast in her arms and face and immediately fell to the ground while her husband and two children–who were trapped in the rear of the camper–frantically searched for a way out.
A handful of medically-trained bystanders rushed to the burning vehicle and pulled the four family members to safety.
“They saved our lives,” Christiana said with tears welling up in her eyes. “We are forever grateful.”
Michelle said that she was in a daze after being pulled from the inferno, adding that she remembers the pain becoming “more real” after she arrived at the Medical College of Virginia’s Evans-Haynes Burn Center.
But for Christiana–who received the most severe burns to 17 percent of her body–the realization was immediate.
“They told us to lie flat on the ground,” she said. “I could feel the dirt bake in, because our skin was sizzling.”
She remembered her skin sloughing off as paramedics worked to cut her wedding ring.
“It was the consistency of melted cheese,” she said.
Christopher received burns to 20 percent of his body and was air-lifted to the hospital because of his age, and each family member spent the next several agonizing weeks being treated for their injuries.
Several family members experienced hallucinations of fire as the result of the mixture of trauma and pain medications, adding psychological injury to the painful skin graft surgeries that followed.
While separated in their own recovery rooms in the burn unit, the family communicated their love for each other through doctors who were treating them.
Christiana and Michelle arrived home on July 13 and were reunited with Steve and Christopher the following week.
The family is undergoing weekly occupational therapy in addition to weekly doctor visits and Steve–who received burns to 40 percent of his body–attends weekly physical therapy to strengthen his lower body, which was weakened from the time he spent in a hospital bed.
While the family will have a long, difficult road ahead, doctors expect them to make a complete recovery.
Steve said the family is progressing daily, adding he has played a few songs on the keyboard since returning home.
“It sounds beautiful, if I do say so myself,” he said.
Despite their circumstances, the family remains positive with the aid of a large support network and a strong foundation in their faith.
“In some way, this has got to be a blessing,” Christiana said.