A traumatic burn injury turns a family’s world upside down. Armando knows this from experience.
In summer 2017, he was on vacation in Mexico with his grandmother. Armando has always loved fireworks and bought some during this trip. When he accidentally lit one inside the house, he picked it up to try to put it out. But it was too late – the firecracker exploded in his hands.
“It felt like a dream. But when I woke up, it was like a nightmare,” Armando says.
He awakened in a hospital room that he shared with six other children. He had just undergone surgery on his hands. The pain was excruciating, but a doctor was nowhere to be found.
Esmeralda, Armando’s mom, immediately traveled from Colorado to Mexico to be with her son. When she arrived, she was taken aback.
“He was in so much pain and nobody seemed to care,” she says like it was yesterday. She wanted to get Armando home to Children’s Hospital Colorado right away, so he could get the care he needed.
“Do what you want, he’s your child,” the doctor said. With that, they took the next flight home.
An unthinkable loss
Four days after the accident, they arrived at Children’s Colorado. Immediately, they felt reassured. “We were still devastated, but knew everything was going to be OK,” Esmeralda says.
Dr. Steven Moulton, director of the Trauma and Burn Programs, assessed Armando’s injuries. He determined that the damage to Armando’s left hand was too significant to heal. They made the difficult decision to amputate.
To prepare Armando for his amputation, a team of Child Life therapists organized a ceremony to honor his hand. Then, in August 2017, Armando’s injured hand was removed.
The family also met with psychologists on the Burn Care Team to help them cope and reconcile feelings about the accident.
“The team at Children’s Colorado took care of our whole family to help us process something no one ever wants to face,” Esmeralda says.
Path to healing
Because Esmeralda couldn’t work during this time, the hospital also connected her with support services to provide for the family’s basic needs. Thanks to donors, these services are offered free of charge to families struggling with the financial burdens of having a child in the hospital. Esmeralda was connected to a program that provided mortgage assistance for one month.
“The little things they do are so healing,” she says.
One week after his surgery, Armando played outside with friends for the first time since his accident.
“It was different, but I got used to it. My friends didn’t understand how I could still keep up with them,” he says with a prideful grin. “But why would I stop playing?”
In the two years since his accident, Armando has undergone five reparative hand surgeries at Children’s Colorado. He also does regular therapy to help him regain mobility in his right hand.
Armando’s healing has gone far beyond his physical injuries.
Last summer, he attended Burn Camp, a weeklong overnight camp for kid and teen burn survivors. The Children’s Colorado Burn Camps Program is funded almost entirely by donors and offers scholarships for kids like Armando.
By spending a week in the mountains with specially trained counselors and fellow survivors, the Burn Camps Program empowers kids to navigate the physical and social challenges that follow a severe burn injury. Through activities like horseback riding, hiking and rock climbing, they discover life after trauma. Most importantly, they find community and support in a group of kids just like them.
Armando didn’t want to go at first, but by the end, he didn’t want to leave.
Now 13 years old, Armando will soon be fitted for an electric prosthetic hand, which will allow him more functionality than a traditional prosthetic. He will continue to work with his doctors at Children’s Colorado to learn how to use his new left hand while building strength in his right.
While Armando’s life has been forever changed, he only sees new opportunity, like sharing his story to inspire other kids and dreaming about becoming a hand surgeon someday.
“I can do anything I want,” he says.