Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas, 41, suffered third-degree burns to half her body after a candle lit a dress she was wearing on fire at a dinner party in November 2019. (Submitted)

Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas, 41, suffered third-degree burns to half her body after a candle lit a dress she was wearing on fire at a dinner party in November 2019. (Submitted)

‘I’m still alive’: B.C. burn survivor shares road to recovery after candle accident

For more than a year after her accident, Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas couldn’t look in the mirror. Now, she’s learning to accept her scars.

“If I’m here and still alive there’s got to be a reason for it.”

That’s the outlook Vancouver resident Angélica Vargas has adopted after a tragic accident left her with third-degree burns on half her body in 2019.

In less than 30 seconds the 41-year-old’s life was changed forever. At a November dinner party, her floor-length polyester dress caught on fire from a low-lying candle.

“I remember running around in circles in the living room screaming for help,” Vargas said. “It was a nightmare, I was conscious the whole time.”

The avid runner was rushed to hospital and spent two months bedridden as a patient at Vancouver General Hospital and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre.

Relearning Walking, Running

After time in the high acuity unit and five plastic surgeries in a span of six weeks, Vargas had to relearn everyday activities including walking.

“When you’re in the hospital you can lose hope so easily,” she said. Her husband, Andrew, took a year’s leave from work to be by her side.

A total of five skin grafts had to be taken from lesser-harmed areas of her body, including her arms and back, and transplanted onto her legs and feet.

To this day, Vargas has not been able to enjoy long periods in the sun due to the danger its rays pose to her skin. As a Latina, this has proven difficult, she chuckled.

She takes medication to dull the nerve pain she experiences, wears compression garments and moisturizes her skin two to three times daily.

“I feel sick all the time,” she admitted, more than a year later.

“I get fatigued because my body is still in recovery.”

A Journey Towards Self-Acceptance

The most arduous part of her healing has been accepting the skin she’s in.

“Up until six months ago, I wasn’t comfortable touching my own skin,” she said. “I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”

It doesn’t help that strangers stare at her scars in public.

“They look and stare at my feet,” Vargas said.

Now, after more than a year of reluctance to share the story of her accident with people outside her close-knit circle of friends and family, Vargas has begun to open up.

“I want to tell other burn survivors like me, ‘You can make it.’” She has done so at the bedside of other burn survivors, with support from British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund.



sarah.grochowski@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC HealthfireHospitals

Just Posted

Ashcroft hospital emergency closed sign, 2016. Photo credit: Barbara Roden
Ashcroft Hospital emergency department closed this weekend

Closure due to unexpected limited physician availabiliy, says Interior Health

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Heidi Roy of the Cariboo Jade Shop in Cache Creek with the 3,000 jade boulder, which is now on secure display inside the shop. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Massive jade boulder returns to Cache Creek store six months after daring heist

The 3,000-pound boulder was stolen on Dec. 19, 2020 and found abandoned in the bush a week later

Dr. Albert de Villiers, chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
Child sex crimes charges against Interior’s top doc won’t impact pandemic response: Dix

Dr. Albert de Villiers is charged with sexual assault and sexual interference

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read