June 5, 2012
Stephanie Nielson Conquered Severe Burns with Faith and Patience
We just got home from a trip to the beach. We had a great time, and I shouldn't complain, but I came down with a terrible case of Poison Ivy just as we were leaving. Apparently I was exposed the week before when I pulled weeds in our wooded backyard. For the first few days of our trip, I was miserable. Big patches of bumps appeared over several days, first just itchy, then dripping with gooey sticky stuff, then hardening into scabs. No amount of Benadryl made it stop itching, it just made me sleepy. I coped as well as I could, trying crèmes and medicines, and tried to still enjoy our beach vacation. I stayed out of the water one day completely, and that helped a lot. Although I'm still nursing my sores better, having them gave me an appreciation for my good health. It made me think of a woman who had more skin problems than I did, causing her more pain and discomfort than I can imagine. And she had a great attitude about it all.
Stephanie Nielson was a happily married wife and mother to 4 cute kids. She had married her high school sweetheart and was blogging daily about her great life when things changed dramatically. She was in an airplane accident that burned her over 80% of her body. Suddenly she was covered in 3rd degree burns. But she had survived the crash.
Healing would take months and many surgeries. But she did heal. She was teaching a yoga class, running miles daily and eating right when she crashed. She credits living right for making her body strong enough to handle the stresses it would endure through her recovery. But it took a lot of determination and strength from Heavenly Father to get through the many routines required to heal.
Her burned skin had to be removed, an extremely painful procedure. Her raw body had to remain exposed until surgeons could graft skin in pieces to her body. Infection was a constant threat, as any infection could cause her to lose limbs or even die. She described the daily procedure, "… the bandages had to be changed twice a day and the fresh wounds scrubbed clean with an agonizing solution of saline and peroxide. The doctors had warned my family that amputation of my arms and legs was likely. Sometimes when I thought things couldn't get worse for me, I would remember the blessing of having arms and legs. They were in terrible shape, but I was grateful I had them. When they pulled off the bandages, it was like having duct tape ripped off my raw wounds, taking my thin layer of skin with it."
After one of the surgeries, she awoke blind. They had grafted skin around her eyes and had sewn them shut to facilitate healing. "I'd felt claustrophobic because I couldn't move, but that was nothing compared to when I couldn't see. As my world had gone dark, so did my heart. The belief … that we had a happy future ahead all but disappeared. All I could do was lie there in the darkness hour after hour." After a week of blindness, she could see again when the stitches were removed. She said, "… it was a tender mercy that redefined my hope in recovering. I was so deeply thankful that the darkness was over. That day, the hospital ceiling was as beautiful to me as any sunset or mountain view."
Not only does Stephanie credit her strong body for her recovery, but she also relied on Heavenly Father in faith to give her hope. "The foundation of my faith in God had been laid when I was a little girl going to church. As I'd gotten older, my faith had grown deeper. My belief in God has never wavered. Marrying in the temple had strengthened my faith in God's plan for me, and bearing children had brought me closer to Him. [In my recovery] I needed God more than I'd ever imagined I would, and I was so thankful for the gift of faith that seemed to have blessed me throughout my life. I'd always prayed, but I'd never had this much to ask for."
With faith and determination, Stephanie first lived through the plane crash. Then she overcame the skin grafts and twice-daily skin cleansing. She pushed through the physical therapy to teach herself how to move her damaged body again. And she adjusted to looking scarred. When she was finally able to go home, she just wanted to be a mom again and take care of her kids. But it took her months of patient effort to be able to do that again. Her body was weakened and shriveled from laying in bed for months. Her grafted skin was tight and hurt whenever she moved. But she persevered and kept moving through the pain. She set a goal to hike to the Y at Brigham Young University on the one year anniversary of her crash. With friends and family supporting her, she reached that goal.
Since the accident, she has resumed her responsibilities as wife and mother, and she has returned to her blog and written a book about her experiences. She has even appeared on television in interviews. But what has made her most happy is that she has given birth to another baby just last month (April 2012). When you consider how badly she was injured, it is a miracle. She had to put off surgeries to repair and rebuild her body, as well as wean herself off of pain medications to have a baby. But, as she said, "I wanted a baby more than I want a lovely neck or flexible fingers. There will be time for more surgeries later, and other milestones to reach for, but for now, [expecting a baby] is the most significant one of them all."
Stephanie summarized her experience: "It has been a long journey, but I see this time in my life as the best part of my story. Not because I've overcome so much, but because I've learned so much and I wouldn't have been taught these valuable lessons any other way. So I don't feel bitter at all, I feel grateful. Now I face trials with a better understanding of who I am, and the strength that comes from knowing I've survived worse. My body was scarred and disfigured, but just the opposite happened to my heart. Today, my heart is triumphant, my body is strong, and my life is full of everyday blessings."
Like Stephanie, we can rely on Heavenly Father in our trials to strengthen us and heal us. And we will be better and stronger in the end.
To learn more about Stephanie Nielson, read her book Heaven is Here; an incredible story of hope, triumph and everyday joy or see her blog at http://nieniedialogues.com/. There is also a Mormon Messages video that features her story called, "My New Life" at lds.org.