TERRE HAUTE —
Even third-degree burns don’t get a cheerleader down when it’s time to play.
Nine-year-old Carmen Schleppy — who suffered severe burns in 2011 — got on the field inside Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday as Indianapolis squared off against the Miami Dolphins. Earlier in the weekend she helped launch the Indiana Pacers’ opening night, all as part of the 2013 Class of Riley Champions presented by Kroger.
By 2:30 p.m. Sunday, the stadium was loud with cheers, but Carmen said over the telephone she was having fun.
“Watching the cheerleaders,” she said when asked about what she saw.
Last week, Carmen’s mother, Colleen, said her daughter’s accident on May 2, 2011, resulted in severe burns over 60 percent of her body. The family was moving into its new home just south of Brazil, and the little girl was standing next to the fireplace in their old home. Sparks caught onto her skirt, and within seconds her clothes were on fire. The burns, both second- and third-degree, were severe, covering her left leg and waist, up her back. Portions of her right leg and left hand were also burned.
Carmen was airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children, which offers the only pediatric burn unit in the state.
“All the nurses were outstanding,” Colleen said, crediting the program’s diverse range of therapies from physical to occupational. “She had to learn to walk all over again.”
Carmen spent three months at Riley as a patient, two of which were in bed. Nine surgeries and months of therapy later, she was back to catching frogs in her family’s pond.
“She’s back into tumbling and cheerleading and her normal Brownie activities. Nothing stops her,” Colleen said of the Jackson Township Elementary School student.
Kathy McGregor, clinical manager at the Riley Burn Center, said Carmen’s successful recovery is one of the reasons staff are so loyal to the program. Getting kids back to playing after severe burns is very rewarding.
“She had a tough fight,” McGregor recalled.
But the program incorporates as much fun into recovery as possible, and Carmen proudly displayed her necklaces full of beads and charms earned while an in-patient. Children in the burn unit are given beads each day as they complete routine tasks, from waking up and going to bed, to completing various therapies. The incentives add up, and by the end of three months Carmen had several necklaces full of ornaments.
The beads program, sponsored by former Colts player Jeff Saturday (now with the Green Bay Packers), gives kids something they can look forward each day, McGregor said.
“That’s something that’s pretty unique to what we do,” she said, explaining how the kids use the beads as a measure of their own progress.
Carmen also enjoyed her music and art therapy.
“I had lots of fun doing music therapy because I like to play the guitar,” she said.
Art therapy involved coloring and making princess ornaments, all of which helped her regain fine motor skills in her hand.
The Riley Champions program was launched five years ago to honor patients who have inspired communities with their bravery and commitment to help others. The group is selected from nominations submitted by Riley Hospital caregivers, Riley Children’s Foundation staff, school administrators and others inspired by their character.
After her experiences in the hospital, Carmen has begun raising funds for the Hoosier Burn Camp, which provides activities for children and networking for past patients.
With nurses at the hospital, she also helped start Compression for Compassion, a program which sends compression garments to burn survivors in Third World countries.
Carmen said she was looking forward to meeting the seven other Riley Champions in her class, and Thursday afternoon she was hoping to score a hug from Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
“Nothing gets her down,” her mother said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.