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Former Patient Inspired to Become a Nurse After Years of Burn Care and Innovative Laser Treatments

It was a phone call no parent ever wants to receive.

In 2010, while Hilary was at her job as an elementary school teacher, her young children were being watched by a friend and neighbor. When her friend turned to drain a pot of macaroni for the kids, she did not realize that Hilary’s 8-year-old daughter, Olivia, was behind her. The two collided and scalding water spilled down Olivia’s back, causing horrific scald burns. Hilary raced from work to her neighbor’s house just in time to meet the ambulance and travel with Olivia to the ER. With one look at her little girl, Hilary knew it was bad.

Once Olivia was stabilized at the local hospital, Hilary and her husband Jeff started to hear from contacts that Shriners Children’s in Boston was the best place to take Olivia for specialized burn care. Through a neighborhood connection, she reached out to Dan Driscoll, M.D., a Shriners Children’s Boston plastic surgeon who helped facilitate Olivia’s transfer to the burn hospital. It is a decision that Olivia and her family are deeply grateful for more than 13 years later.

Olivia remembers arriving at Shriners Children’s Boston late at night. Nurse Debbie was there to greet her with a big stuffed animal, a blanket, and a warm, comforting presence. Hilary recalls Debbie’s expertise in getting an IV into a very scared Olivia. “Olivia was already an anxious child and she was frightened to be going to yet another hospital. Debbie took charge in a calm and efficient manner and took care of my daughter. Debbie and Olivia’s other nurses, Guy and Lynn, were our lifelines,” said Hilary.

Under the care of burn surgeon Colleen Ryan, M.D., Olivia had skin graft surgeries to treat the third-degree burns on her back. She stayed in the hospital for almost a month and remembers how incredible the child life team was. “Rebecca from child life was my bestie.” said Olivia. “She took me to the playroom and we did crafts together. It was hard to be in the hospital, but I almost liked being at Shriners. The staff made me feel special.”

No one from our family can think of Shriners without getting teary-eyed. We are all so grateful knowing our lives would be irrevocably different without everything the Shriners staff did for our family.
Hilary, mother of Boston patient Olivia

With a burn like Olivia’s, plastic and reconstructive care are required to manage hypertrophic, or raised, scars as a child grows. Olivia transitioned first to Dr. Driscoll for care and then to Matthias Donelan, M.D., when she was invited to participate in his study on the effectiveness of a powerful laser. Hilary recalls how Dr. Donelan mapped the elevation of her daughter’s raised scars. Although these treatments had longer recovery times, Olivia was thrilled her scars were smoother and more elastic. “Dr. Donelan is simply the best,” said Olivia.

Over her years of treatment, Olivia braved it all, including the anxiety that is so often a part of continued hospital visits and rehabilitation. She developed a deeper bond with her “bestie,” child life specialist Rebecca Wildes, MS, who taught her coping strategies and introduced her to the Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) teen group. “The PFAC teen group is a safe space to connect with other burn survivors about things only we know about, such as dealing with people seeing our scars for the first time,” she shared. Olivia became a mentor in the group and described how meaningful it was to share her wisdom with younger patients.

Now 21 and a senior at Fairfield University in Connecticut, Olivia is poised to graduate in May with her nursing degree. Inspired by the dedicated and skilled nurses at Shriners Children’s Boston, Olivia knows she can make a difference for her patients. “Shriners is an amazing facility with staff who are truly miracle workers. I received the best possible care for my burns, and also learned so much from the nurses about my dressings, pressure garments and home care. I understand from their example how critical education is to nursing care. I love teaching my patients and will always make it part of my nursing practice,” said Olivia.

Hilary sits in awe of her daughter, once terrified of getting an IV, who can now put one in herself. “Olivia is my hero. She is stronger than she ever realized she could be. I can’t imagine having taken her anywhere else for care. No one from our family can think of Shriners without getting teary-eyed. We are all so grateful knowing our lives would be irrevocably different without everything the Shriners staff did for our family,” she said.

Meet Olivia

This future nurse is deeply grateful to her compassionate and skilled care team.

Olivia with mom

Olivia formed a special bond with nurse Lynn during her initial hospital stay in 2010.

Olivia during clinic visit

Olivia at her first outpatient clinic visit in 2010.

Olivia with nurse

Olivia and her "bestie," senior child life specialist Rebecca Wildes in 2017.

Olivia before surgery

Over the years, Olivia had multiple laser surgeries to improve her scars.

Olivia with mom

Hilary and Olivia smile bright at Fairfield University Family Weekend last year.

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