140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Friday, November 23, 2007

"A blessing that he's here"North state 2-year-old returns home for Thanksgiving after being burned

By Christy Lochrie (Contact)Record-Searchlight,Redding,Ca.
Thursday, November 22, 2007

BACK HOME: Sonja Armstrong and her son, Beau, have a homecoming moment in their Redding backyard. Beau, 2, suffered second- and third-degree burns when his great-grandparents’ travel trailer was engulfed by flames in an accident on Oct. 12. The boy spent 5 1/2 weeks at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento. He’s home with his family for Thanksgiving.

Sonja Armstrong will be caring for her son, 2-year-old Beau Armstrong, full time while he recovers from third-degree burns and skin grafts after a trailer fire in October. So far, the community has donated nearly $5,200 to the family. Quinten and Barbara Erlei, who hosted a benefit dinner for the family, are collecting donations. To donate, call them at Erlei Healthy Start, 244-7990 or visit the store at 2964 Churn Creek Road in Redding.

Beau Armstrong knows things that most 2-year-olds don’t. Like holding still for hour long bandage changes, recovering from third-degree burns and skin grafts, and blowing kisses through his tears.

“It’s just a blessing that he’s here,” said Sonja Armstrong, Beau’s 32-year-old mother.

Here, as in alive, and now here, as in home in Redding, for Thanksgiving dinner with his family, after spending 51⁄2 weeks at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento.

Beau’s ordeal started Oct. 12 when he was about to settle in for a nap with his father’s grandparents, Kay and Kenny Armstrong. The Fortuna couple had driven their new travel trailer to Redding to visit Sonja and her husband, Brad, for the weekend.

With Beau at her side in the new trailer, Kay Armstrong lit the stove’s pilot light, which caused an explosion that blew out the left side of the trailer.

“I heard it,” Sonja Armstrong said. “I heard her screaming and I saw her (holding Beau) and he was limp.”

Sonja said she snatched a garden hose, doused Kay and Beau and dialed 911. But Beau, still wilted in his great-grandmother’s arms, didn’t move. Sonja thought he was dead.

Then Sonja heard what mothers usually try to soothe: Her son was sobbing. But the painful wails were good news. They meant he was alive.

Both Kay and Beau were rushed to Mercy Medical Center in Redding. From there, Kay was taken to University of California at Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and Beau to Shriners. Both underwent skin grafts on their hands and feet. And both were sent home Friday.

Dr. David Greenhalgh was part of Beau’s medical team at Shriners, a privately funded children’s hospital that treats burns and spinal cord injuries free of charge.

Beau was burned on 23 percent of his body, Greenhalgh said. His burns were so severe that his capillaries leaked. The pooled fluids caused his tiny body to swell. And that complicated things for doctors, who had to relieve the pressure with surgery.

“Kids with this kind of burn can get really sick,” Greenhalgh said.

Beau was in a drug-induced coma for two weeks while he recovered from the skin grafts and surgeries, his mother said. Doctors feared that his face, swollen beyond definition, would also require skin grafts. But two weeks later, the swelling suddenly subsided and bright pink skin emerged where it had been a pasty color, his mother said.

Sonja, who worked as a day care provider, has been at Beau’s bedside the entire time. Her husband, Brad Armstrong, has cared for the kids, worked at his full-time lumber mill job and traveled to the hospitals while Sonja stayed at Beau’s side.

Friends raised $5,200 for the family from a car wash, bake sale and a benefit dinner.

“The only reason I cry right now is because of other people’s kindness,” Sonja Armstrong said.

All of it allowed her to focus on Beau and his recovery, something that will occupy her full time for the next year. She snapped photos to document her son’s progress.

Sonja pointed to a favorite photo. In it, Beau is wrapped like a mummy. She’s holding the toddler, who was still groggy from the coma.

“All I wanted to do was kiss his little lips, and I couldn’t because he was so out of it,” Sonja said.

But Sonja is kissing and holding her son now. Hours before his release from the hospital on Friday, she kissed and hugged Beau while an occupational therapist fitted him for a hand splint where he’d had a skin graft weeks before. The splint will help him keep mobility in his hand, doctors say.

Beau wailed and clutched his mother as occupational therapists worked to fit his bandaged hand, which his mother had wrapped earlier that morning.

“Not much longer, bud. Not much longer. We’ve got to make it fit,” Sonja told her son.

“Papa!” Beau cried as his mother tried to comfort him.

It took several tries and more tears to get the splint just right. But once it was over, Rose Stella Ahmed, an occupational therapy intern, blew Beau a kiss.

Beau sniffled. Then blew one back.

“I’m just so glad to have him,” Sonja Armstrong said. “I’ve got my baby. It’s the only thing that matters. I’ve got my baby.”

Reporter Christy Lochrie can be reached at clochrie@redding.com. Read her blog at blogs.redding.com.

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