By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Summertime can be a carefree and fun time for families, but one Forestville family found out tragedy can happen quickly and unexpectedly in the midst of summer fun.
Bradley's compression garments can be seen in this photo. Bradley needs to be refitted for new garments every 3 to 6 months at Shriner's Burn Care Hospital, depending on how fast he grows. The garments help his skin grafts heal.
On Aug. 4, 3-year-old Bradley Bates fell into the smoldering coals of a backyard fire pit after his family returned home from a neighborhood get-together. Initial estimates put Bradley's burns at 75 percent of his body, but his recovery is well under way and his mother Alana told the OBSERVER his spirits are high despite the long road ahead.
"In large part, he's gotten completely back to normal. He's the same child he was before," Alana explained, and said he's grown accustomed to the special garments and treatments required to allow his body and skin grafts to heal. Bradley has to wear compression garments which, once adorned, join together to cover his entire body, including gloves.
"He asks for (the garments) now because he's used to having them on. He's just now begun to complain about them because he needs new ones," Alana said. At his age, he is expected to outgrow the garments every three to six months.
The compression garments are worn for 23 hours a day, seven days a week. During the hour the garments are off, Bradley is bathed and massaged to promote skin graft health. Since the burn accident, Bradley has been back to Shriner's hospital twice to be refitted for compression garments and evaluation of his progress.
Alana said the garments are thick and unusual looking to many people. "I worried a lot about him going back to day care at the Campus and Community Center. I was concerned the first few days, but I came in and observed and watched and a lot of what I saw was simply children asking, 'Why are you wearing that?'" Alana explained, and said Bradley was very open about his injuries, and answered the questions from other children by simply saying, "I fell into a fire pit and I got burned." Alana said the other children reacted with ease and acceptance. "They just looked at him and thought OK, this is the same Bradley we knew before. He is still the same Bradley."
The bills for his surgeries and treatments quickly began piling up, and to date, have totaled almost $9.7 million. "It's overwhelming to see truly how much health care actually costs," Alana explained.
In early September, the Bates family's friends pulled together to raise money toward Bradley's medical bills. A fundraiser was held at Merritt Estate Winery, and through a chance meeting, WWE star and former Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Bill Goldberg came out to support the fund raising efforts.
Since that time, Goldberg has kept in touch with Bradley. Alana said, "He has sent two packages now of memorabilia and things like that and includes signed pictures every time. He asks me at least once or twice a week how Bradley is doing. He's been really amazing," and added, "He's Bradley's new best friend."
Alana said since he's met Goldberg, Bradley has carried around a Bill Goldberg doll. "He sleeping with it so much, the paint ended up rubbing off, so Bill sent him an action figure. He loves it so much," she said.
Many others have helped the family through Bradley's ordeal. "I want to give a special thank you to Michelle Maggio and Tammy Schmitt and our family. They've been an integral part of getting everything together. ... The women from my Zumba class were amazing, too. Dawn and Sarah did a 50-50 raffle and they never even met Bradley," Alana noted.
Bradley's recovery is also credited to the Forestville Fire Department, according to his mother. "Had he not gotten the medical attention he did within four hours, he could have died just from fluid loss," Alana said, which she learned after the accident.
"We actually just went a week ago to Forestville Fire Department and thanked them. Bradley gave them a certificate that said 'Great job, thank you for saving my life.' ... There is very little we could ever really do to say thank you for saving my child's life," she said and added, "Bradley wants to be a firefighter when he grows up."
Alana also credits Shriner's Burn Care Center in Cinncinnati for Bradley's progress. "We feel so incredibly blessed. Had we not been given opportunity to go to Shriner's, he probably would not have made it or been given the kind of care he got there. We're really thankful for that," she shared.
Shriner's is staffed with very special people according to Alana. "They go so far to extend themselves. ... There was not a nurse there who ever had a sad look on their face. I asked one how (she is) not just sad all the time, and she said, 'With all the bad we see, we see the same kids walk out of this hospital,' and that is what makes it worth it," Alana explained. "It sounds like a house of horrors because there is constantly someone being bathed or having their dressing changed. The cries are guttural, because these children are too young to express themselves. The children are in pain and you wonder how nurses do it, but they will tell you they know everything they are doing helps these children," she said.
Bradley will continue to need to be refitted for compression garments, and because grafted skin will not grow along with Bradley's body, he may eventually need more surgeries when he reaches his teens. "He could be 10 years old or 18 years old when he has to have that surgery. The longer we can stretch it (with moisturizing his skin and massaging the grafts) the better," Alana explained.
The Bates family spent Thanksgiving day counting their blessings, like many other days, according to Alana. "I don't think I need a special day for that anymore. I am so appreciative of every day. (most problems seem) so minuscule. As along as I have my children with me, nothing really bothers me anymore."
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