“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.
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