When she was just 6 weeks old, Pennsylvania resident Celeste was injured in a devastating house fire.
The Irem Shrine Center in Dallas, Pennsylvania, learned about Celeste through local media coverage. Shrine Center members contacted Celeste’s parents and helped facilitate a transport to Shriners Children’s Boston for acute burn care.
Because Celeste was so young, she has no memory of the fire. “For me, being only 6 weeks old was beneficial because I do not remember the initial physical pain that the burns caused. I do not recall the event itself and I am thankful for that.”
Celeste was a Shriners Children's Boston patient for over two decades. She and her family lived more than five hours away, traveling back and forth for care throughout her childhood. Although Celeste’s father Carl worked full time, he attended as many appointments as he could with her.
“Whenever I needed a clinic follow-up after surgery, the staff always tried to get me in as soon as possible because there were times my father drove up and back in the same day,” she said. Because Celeste’s stays were often lengthy, her father would return to Pennsylvania for work. “I am happy to say that due to the amazing staff I never cried when my father had to leave me for a few days. My father and I both knew I was in great hands and he was only a phone call away,” she said.
One particular day after her father returned home, Celeste’s lead surgeon, Daniel Driscoll M.D., told her she needed an additional procedure. “I told myself, ‘you can do this Celeste, show your Dad how strong you are.’ The morning of surgery, I was nervous. I still remember the anticipation and racing thoughts that morning. The child life specialist was keeping me busy, going out of her way to remind me I would be okay. Moments before I went into the operating room, my father arrived. The entire staff knew that my Dad had left super early that morning to be by my side. Overall, this hospital stay gave me an appreciation for the little things in life and showed me how to be grateful for people who treat you as if you are their own child,” she said.
One surgery that Celeste said made a significant difference to her was a tissue expander procedure on her scalp. Celeste had burns on the front portion of her head and did not have hair in that area of her scalp. Dr. Driscoll suggested a tissue expander, which entails inserting deflated silicone balloons beneath the skin to help stretch it. “I was thinking it was a hair transplant. Let me tell you, I was wrong. Using all of my natural hair and a scalp tissue expander, Dr. Driscoll reconstructed my hairline. When I tell people I used to be bald there and had long bangs to cover the front of my head, they are as amazed as I still am almost twenty years later. I have a naturally thick brown head of hair that I will be forever grateful for,” Celeste said.
Dr. Driscoll described Celeste as “having a quiet strength and fortitude to undergo so many operations. I remember her father Carl never complained about the drive or the clinic wait. He was just happy to see his daughter getting better with each procedure.”
Celeste said that because she was a Shriners Children's Boston patient for so many years, the hospital became like a second home. “Before you know it the staff becomes family and you cannot wait to see them again.”
Before you know it the staff [at Shriners Children's] becomes family and you cannot wait to see them again.
Celeste developed strong bonds with some of the nurses at Shriners Children’s Boston, including Debbie Sullivan, Judy Kilcullen, Cheryl Kelley and Annette Bradley. “I remember Annette bringing in nail polish and pampering me. All the nurses were always so compassionate, especially when it came to painful dressing changes. And nurse Guy always made me laugh with his sense of humor,” she said.
In June of 2021, Celeste married her best friend Kory. He proposed on the Boston Common during Kory’s first time in the city. Several of Celeste’s Shriners Children’s Boston nurses attended the wedding. “I hadn’t seen them in over 5 years and it was like we just spoke yesterday,” she said.
Debbie Sullivan, one of Celeste’s nurses who attended the wedding, described it as “going into a big family reunion. We felt as if no time had passed at all. Over the years, Celeste became part of our Shriners family.” Debbie recalls receiving the “save the date” for Celeste and Kory’s big day. “I would not have missed it for the world,” she said.
Celeste earned her BA in sociology and an MA in social work. She is a medical social worker. “Growing up I knew I wanted a career that allowed me to help people,” Celeste said. Celeste and Kory share a dog, Dozer, whom they love to spoil. She enjoys the gym, taking classes in Zumba, yoga, boxing and spin. Celeste is also a champion at couponing. “On a Sunday evening you will find me on the couch cutting coupons and looking at weekly ads,” Celeste said. Through her couponing, Celeste has donated personal hygiene and household essentials to local shelters and pantries as a way to give back.
Celeste has some compelling advice to share with others who are living with burn injuries. “The pain that one endures during their injury or from a surgery will only make you stronger. There will certainly be days you ask yourself ‘why me?’ Sometimes it is okay to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, realizing how far you made it,” she shared.
In reflecting on the circumstances of her injury, Celeste noted, “When you see pajamas with a flame resistant label, you probably don’t think about how that will benefit you in the way it did me. I am fortunate to only have been burned on about 30% of my body because I was wearing flame resistant pajamas.”
Celeste is grateful to her care team at Shriners Children’s Boston and appreciates the bonds she still has with them after nearly two decades of care.
Celeste is excited to be an early member of the Patient Alumni Network. The Patient Alumni Network was formed in 2022 as part of Shriners Children's 100th Anniversary Celebration. The goal of this new network is to connect former patients with each other and provide opportunities for them to share their stories and accomplishments with other patients, Shriners, donors and the public.