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Meet Dianelys: From Puerto Rico to Boston for Critical Burn Care and Rehabilitation

“I will never forget the first time I met Fabian,” shared child life specialist Jackie Raftery.

“His entire face lit up as he described his daughter Dianelys’ strength, calling her a beautiful shining light. As he spoke about his family’s faith and fortitude, I knew from that moment we had a family who would work tirelessly to support their daughter’s recovery.” Dianelys, then 8, arrived at Shriners Children’s Boston in critical condition, with her breathing supported by a ventilator. A few weeks earlier, she had been burned over 80% of her body in a catastrophic house fire at her home in Puerto Rico.

“There are no words to describe how I felt when I first saw Dianelys in the hospital in Puerto Rico,” said Fabian. “When I saw her burns and how raw her skin was, I asked myself if she would survive.” The local doctors knew that Dianelys needed specialized burn care to save her life. Researching hospitals with the best outcomes for children with major burns led the family to Shriners Children Boston in early November 2022.

Dianelys immediately became a patient of the acute burn care team led by Robert Sheridan, M.D., chief of staff and medical director of the burn service. Dianelys was fighting a life-threatening infection. Dr. Sheridan surgically removed the damaged skin, and ordered antibiotics and topical treatments to control the infection and stabilize his young patient. Over the next several weeks, the team went through the long process of skin grafting to close Dianelys’ burn wounds. Once the open areas were closed, she was able to come off the ventilator and move into the next phase of her care.

Throughout her first months at Shriners Children’s Boston, Fabian and his wife, Dianelys’ stepmom Marizabel, remained at her side. Their devotion and unwavering faith in their little girl was evident to every member of the care team. As November turned into December and the hospital buzzed with holiday activities, the couple was determined that their daughter would not miss out, though she was unable to leave her inpatient room. They stopped by the holiday parties and visited with Santa and Mrs. Claus. They posed for pictures with the Red Sox and Bruins players who came to bring holiday cheer to patients. They were determined to capture these experiences and create a memory book for Dianelys – as a reminder of the people and events that made her stay at Shriners Children’s so special.

When Dianelys was finally off the ventilator, she was able to begin the rehabilitation phase of her recovery. She worked closely with physical therapist Hilary Smith-Chong, who Fabian said is one of Dianelys’ favorite staff members. Dianelys had lost strength and muscle tone from being intubated for months, yet Hilary was impressed with how quickly she was able to bounce back once she started moving. “Dianelys enjoys drawing and painting, so setting goals for therapies to improve the function of her hands was a big motivator – not to mention the reward of getting her nails done,” said Hilary. The rehabilitation team helped Dianelys transition from the bed to sitting up in a wheelchair and eventually taking her first steps post-injury. That was an emotional and happy achievement for this young girl.

It was incredible to watch Fabian and Marizabel with Dianelys and see their relationship grow. This special family has been through a lot, but they have never wavered in their faith in Shriners and in each other.
Jackie Raftery, child life specialist, Shriners Children's Boston

Child life specialist Jackie, another one of Dianelys’ “favorites,” described her patient as having amazing strength, something that clearly stems from the bonds of her tight-knit family. “It was incredible to watch Fabian and Marizabel with Dianelys and see their relationship grow. This special family has been through a lot, but they have never wavered in their faith in Shriners and in each other,” she said. Jackie went on to describe that it was “priceless” to see how engaged Dianelys was in every milestone activity. From her festive ninth birthday party in February, to the moment she walked for the first time, to “ringing the bell” in March to signal she was ready to go home, there was great joy and pride in these moments.

Dianelys is now home in Puerto Rico and is adjusting to life after her burn injury. She will return to Shriners Children’s Boston for reconstructive care, which is an important component of treatment for a large burn. “Dianelys has a long road ahead of her with reconstructive needs to address both function and appearance. The support of their extended family in Puerto Rico will be very beneficial in helping Dianelys have a great outcome,” said Dr. Sheridan.

Speaking of that supportive family, Fabian and Marizabel are overcome with gratitude for Shriners Children’s Boston. They want to share Dianelys’ story so more families can find the help they need. They believe it is important to get the word out to those who are in the position to donate to the hospital, noting how vital these funds are to support Shriners Children’s mission of caring for children whether or not they have insurance and regardless of the family’s ability to pay. “We cannot say enough how everyone at Shriners has been so kind and has been like family to us and to Dianelys,” said Fabian. “As Dianelys is excited to get home and do the things she loves – like playing music and dancing and working towards playing volleyball again – we will be right by her side. And we will be sure to tell everyone that Shriners got her here.”

Meet Dianelys

Surrounded in love by her family, this joyful 9-year-old has amazing strength and resilience.

Fabian, Marizabel and Santa

When Santa came to visit, Dianelys was too sick to leave the inpatient floor. Fabian and Marizabel took pictures with special visitors to place in a memory book for their daughter.

dianelys birthday party

What a celebration! Dianelys was all smiles at her ninth birthday party. She is pictured here with Marizabel, Fabian, physical therapist Hilary Chong-Smith (left) and child specialist Jackie Raftery.

dianelys with a clown

There was a bit of clowning around at Dianelys' birthday party!

dianelys with her inpatient team

Dianelys captured the hearts of many, including these members of the inpatient care team.

dianelys and parents in hulk gloves

Dianelys, Marizabel and Fabian exemplify strength and grace.

Fabian with Dianelys as she rings the bell

Dianelys Rings the Bell! This special tradition signaled that our young patient was ready to return home after months of life-changing burn care.

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