Weidman Mid-Michigan burn victim makes miraculous recovery

By Susan Field

Morning Sun (Mount Pleasant)

WEIDMAN, Mich. (AP) -- Evelyn Clark knows that she's lucky to be alive.

After being burned in a gasoline fire in July and nearly dying, Evelyn has recovered and spent an "extra special" Thanksgiving with her husband, Jim, her children and her grandchildren at her home in Weidman.

Evelyn nearly died while hospitalized at Spectrum Health Butterworth Campus in Grand Rapids.

Not only did she have third-degree burns covering 27 percent of her body, she developed pneumonia and another life-threatening condition while she was undergoing skin grafts.

Life as Evelyn knew it ended in the early morning hours July 16 when she used gasoline to light a burn barrel in her yard.

While only using a little gasoline, Evelyn's clothing caught fire when she tried to light the fire and had burned off her body by the time she got to the house, according to her daughter, Colleen Vogel.

Evelyn, 79, said she made a "foolish choice" when she used gasoline to light the burn barrel.

Evelyn was rushed to Central Michigan Community Hospital, then taken by ambulance to Spectrum because of the extent of her injuries.

Colleen said she knew the burns were critical when her mother declined pain medication because she felt no pain.

Third-degree burns kill nerves, Colleen said.

"It's a blessing, but it's a bad sign," she said.

Evelyn remembers little after arriving at Spectrum, where she was showered to remove dead skin and was taken to a room.

Donated skin was used to cover Evelyn's burns until skin grafts could be taken from her legs, Colleen said.

"Thank goodness for people who are willing to donate," she said. "The body rejects it but it serves its purpose (until the skin heals)."

Evelyn had burns on her right arm, chest and face.

She was hospitalized for six weeks and at one point was not expected to live because she contracted methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium that causes many infections that are difficult to treat.

Then the pneumonia set in, Colleen said.

"It could have been a lot different," Colleen said of her mother's recovery.

After blood work indicated Evelyn contracted MRSA and she came down with pneumonia, she was put on a ventilator and taken to intensive care, Colleen said.

For the five days she was in ICU, Evelyn's friends and family offered prayers.

"We're a pretty faith-filled family," Colleen said. "A lot of people who we reached out to, everybody just started praying."

Evelyn also received more than 150 cards from well-wishers, Colleen said.

Once Evelyn was placed on powerful antibiotics, she started to recuperate and in a few days was out of intensive care and back in a room in the burn unit, Colleen said.

"She might be 79, but she's a scrapper," Colleen said. "She's a very lucky lady.

"We're all lucky."

Colleen said physicians told her that Evelyn recovered because she is active and in good physical condition.

After spending several days in the hospital, physicians performed skin grafts, which were very painful, Evelyn said.

After being released from Spectrum, Evelyn spent 10 days at Masonic Pathways in Alma in rehabilitation.

Evelyn's accident made Colleen realize how much family means.

"I think sometimes you take that for granted," she said. "It only takes just an instant for things to change."

Evelyn is thankful that she is still alive and that her family and local churches stood by her and is thankful for all the prayers that were offered.

She is now taking water aerobics classes and has become famous in Weidman, Colleen said.

"A woman once asked, 'Is that your mother? You know she's a legend in Weidman,'" Colleen said.

Evelyn's worst fear during her hospital stay was that her orange tabby cat, Boots, would not remember her.

That proved to be an unwarranted concern.

When she got home and called his name, Boots rushed to her side.

Published: Wed, Nov 30, 2011