Thursday, April 4, 2013

In Honor of Elaina Dupris

The message below was written for my friends and family on July 9, 2011, just hours after I learned of the death of a very special person in my life. It is important to understand that as a Survivor Offering Assistance in Recover (SOAR) volunteer, the time we spend with a burn patient or their family is usually quite private, therefore, I rarely have an opportunity to share these amazing stories of survival with my own loved ones.

However, Elaina was different because she actually spent some precious moments with my own family. She was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Tribe, which is located in North Dakota, and she taught me a great deal about her community. Joe and I drove to North Dakota to attend her visitation and the tribe honored her foster mom and me with a burial blanket in a gesture of appreciation for the care we gave Elaina. This blanket will forever be one of my most treasured gifts as it represents a beautiful soul, a wonderful relationship, and a connection to a community I never expected. I have chosen to share these very personal words with you in remembrance of Elaina …because she survived a house explosion that occurred two years ago today, on April 4, 2011.

To Anyone Who’s Life Has Been Touched by Another Unexpectedly,
In honor of Elaina Camille Dupris – June 11, 1994 to July 8, 2011

As with any SOAR connection, I will respect Elaina’s privacy regarding sensitive issues, however, I am able to tell the story from my perspective with enough detail to share the ways in which she touched my life. And, it is my sincere hope that I was able to touch hers.

On May 4th, I was asked to make a SOAR visit to a 16-year-old girl at Regions Hospital Burn Center. As part of the process I was given some background information, however, I was warned this one might be a difficult case.

Exactly one month earlier, Elaina was severely burned in a house explosion. She had been mostly unaware of her surroundings for the better part of the month. I met her on Saturday afternoon, May 7th, and she was in rough shape. My early visits to Elaina were while she was in isolation and she was putting up quite a fight against numerous infections in addition to her burn injuries. 

When I arrived it was necessary for me to check in with her nurse, wash up, put on a gown, face mask, hair net, and gloves. The only thing Elaina could see were my eyes. She loved my eyes and kept telling me how beautiful they were....and she said that she believed hers were “common.” I told her repeatedly how gorgeous her eyes were, and watched her lashes grow back a little more each time I saw her. 

Elaina had stunning brown eyes that looked directly into mine, as if she were looking beyond them. Her features were classic, at least as I envisioned an American Indian. Even as she was unable to sit up or move in her hospital bed, I could tell she was tall and lean. She proudly informed me that she was 5’9” and not done growing. 

We shared many conversations about her accident, the pain she was feeling, the care she was being given, stories about her family and friends, her likes and dislikes, her fears and her dreams. Elaina was completely uninhibited with her words when we spoke. I trusted her and I believe she trusted me, which, for this young girl was not an easy thing to do.

From the first SOAR visit, and every visit that followed, Elaina asked me just before I left, when I could come back. She was meticulous about knowing the time that nurses came on and off duty, when she needed her meds, and when I could commit to a next visit.

Before I left for Greece, I felt the need to inform Elaina when I would be going and when I would return. She was still in isolation, but because I knew she loved animals and I had described Tonka to her, I brought a couple pictures on my phone. She said she had been dreaming about Tonka, and when I showed her the pictures, she said he was exactly what she had seen in her dreams. 

I sent her a postcard from Santorini, and brought her back a sterling bracelet with the Greek symbol known as the “key to life.” She was able to put it on by herself, which was a very big deal...and she seemed to like it very much. More importantly, she said she missed me, and was happy I was home. I told her I missed her too...and I did. Unfortunately, she had some serious difficulties while I was away, which is a part of the burn experience.

As she healed, I started bringing Tonka in his bag to visit Elaina. She met him for the first time sitting in her wheel chair on the roof top patio. He popped up and made her giggle, and they adored each other. Tonka obviously possesses that animal gift of knowing where there is a booboo, and he was so very gentle with Elaina and her burned hands.

I asked Elaina to keep his visits a secret, and she did. I wanted to inform the hospital staff that I had brought Tonka with me, and thankfully they agreed he was a positive for her. 

Elaina’s 17th birthday was on June 11th, and she was so very excited to have her grandmother, uncle and two cousins visit. The burn unit staff threw a party for her, and gave her the perfect gifts...basketball attire. I stopped by to bring her gifts as well, and Joe returned with me later that evening to give her an autographed Lynx WNBA ball. Throughout our visits she and Joe were comparing NBA notes via me. It was actually kind of cute. 

We were informed that Elaina was a talented athlete, and she told me that she dreamed of playing professionally. I have no doubt that dream could have been a reality. When I watched Elaina dribble, pretend to shoot, and learn to walk again, I could just see the athletic ability. 

On two occasions, I took Elaina from the hospital on passes. The first trip was on my Mother’s 84th birthday for a party at our home in Minneapolis. She met several of my family members and our friend Rob from Steamboat Springs. She ate KFC like it was going out of style, which made a lot of sense, since she had only had her feeding tube removed a few days prior. She watched “Cars” with my great nephew in the home theater, and took a much-needed nap. On the way back, she asked to see more of the city, so we took a little tour.

The second trip was to The Goodrich Place. My sister and her family have a beautiful farm in Wisconsin with plenty of animals. Since Elaina dreamed of owning a ranch someday, preferably in Montana, which she had never seen...we started with the horses and moved onto the cattle. As we drove through the pasture on an ATV, she held onto Tonka and seemed to enjoy being in the outdoors. The afternoon was spent relaxing on the patio and dinner was one of her favorite meals...lasagna.

I didn’t get Elaina back to the hospital until 9:00 that evening, and even though she was tired, she made me a promise. She promised to view the next step in her life as an opportunity. The following day she would be meeting her new foster mom, and leaving the safe haven that burn victims often attach themselves to, which is the burn center. 

When I left the burn center, the same year that Elaina was born, I was afraid...and I had more support than a person could wish for...a fiancée who was amazing, a mother and father who never left my side, siblings, other family and friends that never stopped offering to give of themselves for every and anything I needed. 

In her case, she was about to meet a new person who would become her primary care provider, move into a new home, in a new city, with new medical and therapeutic support, and not know a single person. As I hugged her good-bye and closed the door behind me, I made it a few feet to the nurses stand to complete the necessary paperwork....and I lost it. I was in pain for Elaina, and scared for her future. 

For burn survivors, the process is a wild roller coaster ride. This was part of her ride, and for the next week or so, there were some difficult times. I ached for this young person and wanted so badly to help her, but just as badly, wanted to believe in the system and hoped it would work for Elaina.
Joe asked me a very honest question in the middle this relationship, which was, “why this one, what is it about her that makes your SOAR relationship so different?” It was an easy answer, “someone is home.” I went on to explain how special I found Elaina to be; she is bright, sweet, funny, honest, has interesting opinions, is both mature in some ways and so innocent in other ways, and talented. I didn’t need to see her dribble a ball...she gave me a good enough explanation to visualize her in action. I know she was amazing.

After the day she spent at our home, I told Joe and Rob that she even said good-bye to the two of them like a jock...they laughed and agreed...and had noticed the same thing. Elaina told me she wasn’t that into boys...and I would guess it was because she was more interested in kicking their butts on a court. Which works for me.

Elaina kept the promise she made me, and Thursday night, just two days ago...she and Jamie called me. We chatted, laughed, caught up on all of the recent events including; bandage changes, baths, therapies, a visit to the ER, nerve growth, meals, how she was healing, and she was really excited about the carrot and orange juice that Jamie had her try. She said she could taste the vegetable at first and then the fruit later...she really liked it. 

Jamie was doing a truly wonderful job caring for my friend, and for that I will forever be grateful. I was so thrilled about the conversation; I called a special person with the burn team, who introduced me to Elaina in the first place. I left a message on Friday morning to share how well things seemed to be going. Unfortunately, later that day we attended a very sad and unexpected funeral for a young man, which was nothing short of heart wrenching, and later in the evening we celebrated a young couple getting married.

It was an emotionally exhausting day; therefore, I didn’t answer my cell phone when it rang early Saturday morning...this morning....but I got up anyway and listened to the voice message. It was Jamie, who was letting me know Elaina was gone. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and called Jamie immediately. Joe was right next to me while Jamie talked me through the entire day yesterday, which was one of Elaina’s best. She went to sleep peacefully and didn’t even want her pain meds. She stopped breathing sometime during the night. 

It is impossible for me to understand why Elaina is gone. She had a remarkable spirit, which touched many of us. She was thoughtful, warm, caring, with so many dreams, in spite of the challenges she had been forced to endure. She shared stories with me, both good and bad about her culture...and every time it rains I will remember what her great grandmother taught her...that letting the rain fall on your hair makes it grow. It may sound silly, but she believed, and so every time it rains...I will think of this beautiful young girl that touched my heart and soul.

I will miss you Elaina, however, I believe God will bless you and keep you safe. He will keep his promises to you and I know you believed in him. 

Elaina, your life was far too short and you endured more pain than anyone should ever feel. I share my memories of you with others on the anniversary of your injury, because you deserve to be celebrated and as a burn survivor I know that day changed everything…it is the reason our lives connected…and part of God’s plan for you and me.

Elaina Dupris and Mrs. Minneapolis International at The Goodrich Place in Wisconsin

With love,

Sarah Bazey
Mrs. International 2012

1 comment:

  1. Through sobs I read your comments about Elaina. I was blessed to be her teacher while she was at Regions. She was a beautiful person and knowing her changed my life forever. Thank you for writing and for caring about her as you did and do. Elaina was precious. Thank you. Blessings to you, Jennifer

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