Kaitlin's Story

By: Jennifer Todd

On December 1, 1999, at approximately 9:00 am our oldest daughter Kayla came to our room and told her father (Mike) she smelled smoke in the other end of the house. Mike went to see if he could find the smoke. As he looked around he saw wispy smoke in the hall and front room, he could not determine where it was coming from so he went to the phone and called 911 explaining the he had a 7 year old and two toddlers in the house with smoke from a undetermined source. The 911 operator advised him to get the children out of the house. He first told the oldest to go out to the street and wait for him to get the other children out.


When he was walking through the front room he saw his adult daughter (Moira) the mother of one of the infants pull up to the front of the house. Mike opened the door to the children's room and realized that he could not see across the room due to the smoke. The fire had started in their room. He yelled for Moira to come and help. Then Michael crossed the room towards Kaitlin's bed. Moira went to get her son, James, out of his crib. She caused the crib to fall across the doorway. Mike by this time had Kaitlin out of her bed. He saw the crib across the doorway. As Mike was leaving the room the ceiling over Kaitlin's bed collapsed. The fire started to burn Mike's hair. Once outside Moira and Mike started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to get the infants breathing again. About that time one of the volunteer firefighters arrived and took the children to his pickup. The firefighter laid both of the children on the tailgate and continued treating them.

Next to arrive was the fire company and the ambulance. The babies were immediately taken to the ambulance and cared for by the Paramedics. Shortly there after Mike had called me, Jennifer, at work to inform me of the accident. I immediately left work and drove home. When I arrived at the house it was completely engulfed in flames. Kaitlin and James were in the ambulances. The ambulance doors were already closed. I was very nervious and kept asking, "Where is my baby?" My sister-in-law told me what ambulance Kaitlin was in. I ran over and opened the doors to see Kaitlin badly burned. One side of her was charred. I lost it and I was ordered to move away. The ambulance was ready to transport the two children to the hospital. Mike told Moira to follow the ambulance to the hospital. When Moria arrived at Lakeland Regional the hospital staff informed her that the children were air lifted to Tampa General Hospital. Moira immediately got in her car and began to drive to Tampa. My Mother and brother were called. I asked my Mom and Dad go get my boys Jordan and Darrin from school.

My husband and I were not allowed to leave the scene until the Fire Marshall had talked to us. Both of us wanted to get to the hospital and she our child. By this time the fire scene had turned into a Media Affai. There were T.V. trucks, helicopter and reporters all around our house. Between the Fire Marshall and County Sheriff's questions, we did not get to leave for the hospital until after 5:00 pm.

Upon reaching the hospital and informing the hospital staff who we were, and requesting to see our babies, they asked us to sit down and give them our insurance information. As a parent of a child that was just burned very badly that was not an easy thing to do. They did not even tell us if the babies were alive or dead. our emotions were beginning to take over and after a verbal altercation we were told where to go to see the children and speak to the doctor incharged. They had Kaitlin's hands wrapped with her fingers together rather than having her fingers wrapped individually. We later found out that it could have caused her fingers to grow together as they healed. Due to the fire and the smoke, Kaitlin was on a ventilator and there were feeding tubes in her nose. We stayed with her until about 10pm. Then our friends that had taken us to Tampa, and my brother said that it was best for us all to go out for dinner. It was very hard for me to eat. I know that I did need something in order to give my body the energy it needed to continue on. So after dinner we went back to my brother's house. We found out that a gentleman called from the Shriner's had called after hearing what had happened and wanted to talk to us. I called and left him a message.

At about 8am the next morning the gentleman from Shriners called and explained what the Shriner's Hospital was about and how they could help the children. I asked him what we needed to do and he said all Moria and I have to do was call Tampa General and tell them that we wanted the children transferred to Shriner's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. So we called the hospital and told them that we wanted both children to be transferred. They first started to tell me that their hospital could give the children the same care as Shriners. I began to get very angry again. This reminded me when I first arrived at the hospital and they immeduately asked me for our insurance information. I decided to asked her the hospital if they were going to provide my daughter and James free medical care, surgery, pressure garments and therapy until they turned 18 years old. The hospital said "NO". I told the woman on the phone her that since you cannot provide the children with the same care as Shriner's, that I want the children to be transported ASAP. Moira got on the phone and gave the hospital permission to also send James to Shriners. We had the opportunity to meet with the nurses that were on the Life Flight that took the babies to the hospital. It was a good feeling to see who was going to take care of my child and to be able to personally thank them. We left the hospital and went straight to the airport. When we got on the plane we were so nervious that we spoke about the children to the flight attend. She said that she would keep us and the children in her prayers.

When we got to Cincinnati there was a Shriner's van waiting for us. Once at the hospital the staff was wonderful. Our Family Worker was there to help us and answer any and all of our questions. She took us to our room, which was on the 2nd floor of the hospital. She showed us where the laundry services were and they gave us $60 a week for food. Our 3 older children were staying with my mother while we were there so we knew they were taken care of.

The first night in Shriners we did not get to sleep until after 4am. Kaitlin and James arrived at about 1am, due to problems with Tampa General. We were not allowed to go in and see them until the nurses and Dr.'s had them settled in their beds. Kaitlin was still on a ventilator. Once the doctors and nurses finishe, they explained why it took so long. Kaitlin had to have a feeding tube put in and they had to take off the bandages on her hands and put the ointments on her. James was doing well he was eating on his own not having any breathing problems. James was moving around. He had skin graft on both arms and 1 pinky finger.

Kaitlin was on the ventilator for 21 days. We were told that for 14 of those days, they had to pull carbon out of her lungs. She was burnt on both of her hands (front and back) 3rd degree, on her forehead, cheeks, and ears also 3rd degree. There was a small place on her chest and her left shoulder was 3rd degree.

Kaitlin was listed in critical condition when she was admitted to Shriner's. The doctor's gave her a 25% chance of living and she wasn't out of the woods until after they did her surgery on her face. The first surgery she had done was on her hands, and then about a week later they did her face. They had to wait until they could take her off the ventilator before they could do the surgery on her face, and she was off of it for 5 days then after they did the excision on day 1 of her facial surgery. They said she had a mild asthma attack on the table and if she had a problem during the grafting surgery the next day she would have to stay on the ventilator. Needless to say she was on the ventilator another 4 days. But once she was taken off of that she was able to go to the playroom and to therapy.

We were in Cincinnati for 33 days, over the 1999 Christmas and the New Year's 2000 holidays. We came home on January 3, 2000. Since then Kaitlin has been back to Cincinnati on several occasions for checkups. She has had 1 minor surgery since. Both Kaitlin and James had pressure suits they had to wear, and Kaitlin had a facemask she had to wear up until this past November. Kaitlin has to go back to Cincinnati in May of next year and then they will decide what they are going to do and when the next surgery is going to be.

Kaitlin was not a shy baby before this happened she would go up to any stranger. Kaitlin had been learning new words daily. She was very healthy and happy. Since the fire Kaitlin is extremely shy when around other people. She had to have physical therapy, as well as the massaging and exercises we had to do with her, and speech therapy.


Since the damage to her lungs was so extensive she now has asthma and is taking medication 3 times a day. All the therapy worked well and Kaitlin is now 3 yrs old and talking up a storm. She has recently started Head Start and has 2 boyfriends fighting over who will take off her jacket when she gets to school. The fire has set her back by 3 months in her development.

There are people who stare at Kaitlin as if she has some kind of disease. There are some people who ask us what happened to her. We went to a community function in Kissimmee, Fl not long after she came home and I had a mother come up to me and she said "my children were wondering what happened to her" and I told her that she was burned in a house fire and they came up to her and tried to give her a hug. Kaitlin didn't want any part of that. There are people who will just stare at her like there is something wrong with her. I have come to grips with those kinds of people, it used to make me mad but I have to remember that they just don't know and they are to afraid to ask questions so now I just let it go. There isn't much else I can do. Kaitlin is adapting well with everything that has happened and she has many new friends both at school and in our neighborhood. Everyone who meets her just loves her to pieces.

We would like to offer our help to anyone who needs to talk or get advice on how to cope after a burn.

Thank you for allowing us to share our story and we can only hope that it can help others.