140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Monday, May 11, 2009

Local burn victim seeks assistance from community

Posted: 05/11/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT
Audra Pigman, 13, talks with her grandmother Friday after... (Lindsay Pierce/The Daily Times)

By Alysa Landry — The Daily Times
AZTEC — Audra Pigman's nightmares sometimes are so violent they wake her family.

The dreams have haunted Audra's sleep for nearly seven years, since she suffered first-, second- and third-degree burns on about 36 percent of her body.

"She still sleepwalks at night," said Audra's aunt, Sherry Thomason. "Sometimes I find her on the porch in the middle of the night, patting her body, trying to put out the flames."

Audra was 6 when her T-shirt went up in flames after she got too close to a lighter her brother was using to melt the end of a shoelace. The burns covered her stomach, chest, arms, hands and neck.

Audra was transported comatose to Albuquerque, where she stayed in the hospital for almost three weeks. She then was moved to the burn unit at Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas, where she underwent extensive skin grafts.

But doctors told her she would need surgery on a yearly basis until she reached adulthood.

"They projected in Galveston that she would be in and out of the hospital until she is 21 years old," said Barbara Thomason, Audra's grandmother. "A lot of trips are going to have to be made. There are a lot of surgeries to do."

Shriners covered medical costs and assisted with travel expenses until the hospital closed because of damage in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Audra, now 13, is planning to travel to Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., for her next series of surgeries.

But Shriners no longer is helping with travel costs, and
Audra is in desperate need of reconstructive surgery, her grandmother said during an interview with the family at its County Road 3000 home.

"She's outgrown the skin grafting they did," Barbara said. "She's in a lot of pain. She never complains, never says anything, but I can tell, especially when she's asleep."

Scar tissue doesn't stretch, and young burn victims often are forced to undergo reconstructive surgeries in their teens as their bodies mature.

"They're going to go in and strip off all the skin grafts and start over," Barbara said. "From her belly button up, they're starting over. It just makes me shudder to think about it."

Audra will go through a series of reconstructive surgeries to reshape her breasts and smooth her skin. The teen is facing as many as two surgeries per year for the next eight years.

Doctors have promised a near-complete recovery after the surgeries are done, but the teen may face complications later in life if she bears children, Barbara said.

Yet Audra is a "happy-go-lucky kind of girl," her grandmother said. She maintains a positive and mischievous attitude and flashes a brilliant smile even to strangers.

Audra said she remembers the incident, but "tries not to think about it." She has aspirations to be a teacher or doctor when she grows up, but for now, her life revolves around horses, computers and exploring the yard around her grandmother's trailer home.

"I just don't think about it," Audra said of the accident. "I don't like thinking about it."

But Audra sometimes is forced to think about the incident and the upcoming surgeries. For the second time in her short life, she is seeking donations from the community to offset travel and lodging costs. Locals contributed seven years ago to help cover lodging costs in Galveston, Texas.

Her first surgery in California is scheduled for June 12, and the family estimates it needs about $2,000 to cover the costs of the two-week trip.

"I'm taking her one way or another because she needs this," Barbara said. "If I have to put my thumb up or hitch my horses to a buggy, she's going."

Alysa Landry:

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