On the first day of Spring Break in 2018, Sammy Badger, 17, was enjoying a bonfire with her friends by the Squamish River.
Then in an instant everything changed. Someone threw an accelerant into the fire. The explosion engulfed Sammy’s head and hand in a ball of flame.
“I was on fire and one of the kids across from me basically jumped through the flames towards me and pushed me to the ground and yelled, Roll, roll!” says Sammy.
Sammy closed her eyes and mouth and rolled in the sand, putting out the fire.
Sammy couldn’t open her eyes and her head was in scorching pain. She needed expert medical care — the kind found only at Vancouver General Hospital, the major burn referral centre for adults in BC.
At VGH, the medical team examined Sammy’s injuries — she had burns on her face, neck and hand. Thankfully, the burns were considered superficial and did not affect the nerves.
“This is good news, but it also brings a challenge,” says Dr. Anthony Papp, Medical Director, BC Professional Firefighters’ Burn, Trauma and High Acuity Unit at VGH. “Good, because we can help her skin fully recover. But the exposed nerve endings can cause a lot of pain.”
Part of Sammy’s treatment involved “debriding”. This is when the burnt skin and foreign objects like dirt are removed in order for the healthy skin underneath to re-form properly. “It can be very painful, even with pain medication,” says Dr. Papp.
Sammy is a musician — a singer. Knowing this, staff members brought in Music Therapist Gemma Isaac to play music with Sammy while the medical team undertook the debriding process.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to sing again or not,” says Sammy. “Then Gemma started singing and I started singing too. It took me away from the pain.”
VGH’s BC Professional Firefighters’ Burn, Trauma and High Acuity Unit is the provincial referral centre treating major burns for adults.
Burns cause an estimated 180,000 deaths per year worldwide.
More than 3,000 Canadians are treated every year for major burns.
Six weeks after her accident, thanks to the world-class care she received at VGH, Sammy’s wounds fully healed.
“The teams there saved my life, and I came out of it stronger than before.”
She has since written a song about her experience under the stage name Valor Grey.
The song is called Phoenix, as Sammy sings about working through her pain and coming out of it stronger than ever before, rising up from the ashes like the mythical creature.
“I just came up with a quote saying, I am a phoenix rising from the fire. You tried to push me down, but I came back higher. I never thought that it could turn into a song,” she says. “I just had it as a quote to help me get through this situation.”
And having personally experienced the power of music in the hospital Sammy is now seriously considering music therapy as her future career.
“I am so grateful for the staff and therapists who helped me at VGH,” says Sammy. “Because of them I can sing again. I have my face again. And now I want to be a Music Therapist and help other people like me because I understand what they’ve been through.”
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Additional photos provided by Christopher Edmonstone.