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Chandler girl recovering from second- and third-degree burns

Lauren Stoel, 10, (center) stands with her American Girl doll and her family, including dad Travis, Mom Randi, 7-year-old brother Logan and 3-year-old sister Caroline in their Chandler home. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

CHANDLER — Ten-year-old Lauren Stoel has made macaroni and cheese for her younger brother and sister “a billion times,” but on the day after Thanksgiving, her stint in the kitchen left her with second- and third-degree burns and required a 24-day stay in the burn unit at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

Lauren is now back at home in Chandler, and on Monday she returned to her fourth-grade classroom at Murray County Central. She still has some pain from the burns and subsequent skin grafting, is learning how to walk normally again and will have to forgo dodgeball and other contact sports as her body heals, but her spirits are high and her smile is ever ready.

It was the day before 3-year-old sister Caroline’s birthday, on Nov. 27, when Lauren was at the kitchen stove, making Caroline’s favorite food. She’d noticed something had stuck to the side of the pan as she was cooking the macaroni, and as she attempted to free the melting plastic, the pan jiggled and a bit of water spilled out and onto the kitchen floor.

Lauren stepped forward to steady the pan, but slipped on the spilled water and ended up on the floor with the boiling water and cooked noodles landing on her upper legs, pelvis, abdomen, right hand and wrist.

Mother Randi, a registered nurse, heard Lauren’s high-pitched screams and ran to the kitchen to find Lauren pulling off her clothing.

Instantly, Randi switched from mom mode to nurse mode and led her oldest daughter underneath a showerhead streaming ice-cold water.

“We started filling the tub, too, with cold water, and once it got high enough, I made her sit in it,” Randi said, as young Lauren shuddered at the memory.

After 15 minutes had elapsed, Lauren’s pain hadn’t lessened. That’s when Randi decided they better get to the hospital.

The Murray County Hospital is a 15-mile drive from their home in Chandler, but Lauren’s dad, Travis, said they made it in record time.

“You only apologized for the mess on the floor about four or five times on the way over there,” Travis said to Lauren as they retold the story in their dining room last week.

“Well, I was sorry,” Lauren replied.

After pulling into the emergency room, medical personnel applied cooling gauze to Lauren’s burns. A visit by a doctor revealed the burns were extensive enough that she’d need to be transferred to the Twin Cities.

Randi accompanied her daughter in the ambulance to Regions Hospital, and EMTs made the trip pass quickly by creating balloon animals for Lauren.

Once at Regions, Lauren had her burns cleaned and covered. Her hand and stomach had suffered second-degree burns, but the burns were deeper on her legs and pelvis. Classified as third-degree burns, Randi said the boiling water and macaroni had caused burns into the dermis layer and nerve endings.

“Actually, the first couple of days, (her) hand hurt the worst because it was the lightest burn area,” explained Randi. “She wasn’t feeling the pain sensors in her legs because the nerve endings were burned.”

During their first week in Regions, Lauren went through the painful daily process of having dead skin growth removed from around her burn areas. Before making any decisions, medical staff waited to see how the body would heal itself.

Five days after her arrival in the burn unit, the family learned she would definitely need skin grafts.

“It was a tough decision at that point as well,” Randi said. “They could do a quick skin graft or use the Integra product, which provides elasticity in the skin. It requires two weeks bed rest and then to do a skin graft on top of that.

“We have Lauren, who loves school and hates to miss, and we had the choice to do the good surgery and stay three weeks (longer), but have the best outcome with elasticity as she grows into those teenage years,” she added.

Ultimately, they left the decision to Lauren, and her response was, “I just want to get better right, Mom. I don’t want to stay here, but I want to get better right.”

On Dec. 4, doctors inserted the Integra product under Lauren’s skin in the burned areas of her legs and pelvis. The surgery required five days of bedrest and what should have been a 14-day wait before skin grafting was done. However, because of Lauren’s good health, doctors moved the skin grafting procedure up four days, to Dec. 15.

The top two layers of skin were removed from donor sites on Lauren’s left leg and grafted onto the burn areas. Randi said that skin should regenerate in two to four weeks.

On Monday, Dec. 21, Lauren received the all-clear from her doctor to return home. The announcement couldn’t have been more exciting for the young girl, who was most looking forward to being home in time to attend Christmas Eve candlelight services at her church.

“At the end (of the service) we always get candles, they turn out the lights and we sing ‘Silent Night,’” Lauren said.

On Dec. 22, the Stoels made a surprise visit to Lauren’s school. She’d been scheduled to Skype with her class that afternoon, and instead walked into the classroom. Her teacher was stunned, her classmates cheered and the ladies in the lunchroom cried.

“It was an emotional moment,” said Randi.

While Lauren was hospitalized, her elementary school hosted a Wacky Wear fundraiser, collecting nearly $2,100 to help with Lauren’s medical expenses.

“I could not believe it,” said Randi of the money raised.

“It goes to show what this community can do — it’s amazing,” added Travis. His coworkers at Cargill, and several of the companies he works with, bought gifts for Lauren — fingernail polishes and accessories for the American Girl doll she received as a gift. The doll company donates dolls to Gillette Children’s Hospital, located adjacent to Regions, and a nurse chose Grace Thomas, a doll resembling Lauren, to present to her on the second day of her stay in the burn unit.

“It’s been overwhelming, to say the least,” said Randi of the support they’ve received through Lauren’s recovery. The hospital staff was wonderful and kind, and the messages from back home helped keep Lauren’s spirits up.

“The staff at (Regions) couldn’t believe how much mail Lauren got,” said Randi.

“They said, ‘You must come from a supportive community,’” added Travis.

“I don’t know if thank you begins to describe it,” shared Randi.

The Stoels leaned heavily on both sets of grandparents, as Randi stayed by Lauren’s hospital bed and Travis fit in work when he could.

While Lauren’s recovery continues, Randi said it is possible there may be more surgeries. She will need to wear compression shorts to keep the scar tissue to a minimum, and the skin must be kept hydrated with moisturizing cream.

As for returning to the kitchen, it may take a little while before Lauren is ready to boil water again.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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