Burn victim, physical therapist at Shriners Hospitals for Children develop enduring bond
When Michelle was 9 years old, her face, hands and upper body were gravely burned in a kitchen accident at her home on San Pedro Island in Belize.
Her father’s boss quickly arranged for Michelle to be flown to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Boston, where she spent seven months undergoing countless surgeries and extensive skin grafts.
Those dark weeks and months were foggy, but there’s one thing Michelle remembers clearly: all the love and care she received from her physical therapist, Lori Turgeon.
The pair quickly formed a lasting bond.
“She’s definitely a piece of my heart forever,” said Lori, a mother of two boys and director of therapeutic services at Shriners. “She’s my daughter. She’s the girl I never got to have.”
Every year, Michelle travels to Shriners for treatment.
Now 14, Michelle is back in Boston for several months. She’s undergone surgery to put skin grafts under her right arm and she’ll undergo another surgery next week to improve the function of her right eyelid.
During a visit to Shriners this week, Lori hugged Michelle close, through tears and laughter, as they talked about Michelle’s brave recovery.
The accident happened after Michelle got head lice at school and a woman told her mother to put gasoline in her daughter’s hair to kill them. “I was in the kitchen and the stove was on,” Michelle told me, “so I got burned.”
She was taken to a local hospital and then flown to Boston with her father. Michelle’s mother was burned and had to stay home for treatment.
Michelle had used her hands to protect herself and put out the flames, and several of her fingers needed to be amputated. The day before the surgery, Michelle asked the doctor why he had to amputate her fingers and her courage and maturity is something Lori won’t ever forget.
“That was something that always stuck with me, how she really was so resilient even in that moment when she had so much going on, to be able to advocate for herself, to say, ‘Are you sure this needs to happen?’ ” Lori recalled. “It was a tough moment for all of us.”
Months of rehabilitation, often painful, followed. Lori was by Michelle’s side as she worked hard to regain the use of her hands and walk again after a long stay in a hospital bed. Lori tried to make it fun with games. They made puppets and Play-Doh animals.
“She always knew that she was going to get better,” Lori said of Michelle.
October is National Physical Therapy Month.
Michelle tears up talking about the advice Lori has given her about other people’s questions and stares. “She would say she is here to help me,” Michelle said, “and make me feel confident.”
“You’re still the same person on the inside,” Lori said. “Michelle is intelligent and sweet and smart and extremely good at advocating for herself. She’s strong and it shows in everything she does.”
Over the years, Lori has watched Michelle learn to lead a full life again. She’s gone bowling and played mini golf. Back home, Michelle’s at school.
There’s so much more to Michelle than her injury. She’s been a fashionista since kindergarten and she wants to become a marine biologist and astronaut.
There’s no limit to what Michelle can do.Boston Herald