Couple healing from burns sustained in house fire

Hoping to rebuild in Union Mills
Mar. 08, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

This morning Don and Sylvia Kent are waking up in Augusta, Ga. where they will see doctors at the Burn Center.  It's Don's first check-up since he was released on Friday, March 1, after being treated for burns on his hands, face and head. He underwent skin grafts while hospitalized. 

Sylvia Kent, 59, is accompanying her husband and hopes to see the doctor, too. She is also recovering from burns on her face, head and hands.

The couple was burned when their house caught fire on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 24.

While Don was being treated in Augusta, Sylvia was being treated for her burns at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.  They were airlifted from Union MIlls to the burn centers.

Today they hope they will be under the same doctors' care which will make life easier for them during the coming weeks of recovery.

Don, 68, still has a lot of pain in his hands. Her pain has subsided somewhat, but her head still hurts. Their hands are heavily bandaged. 

"Its like living with heavy mittens," said Don.

In their hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express in Forest City, which is their home indefinitely, there is a makeshift nursing station where bandages, medicine and ointment is kept to dress their wounds. They have to help each other.

The couple said they were downstairs in their two-story home when Don said they heard what sounded like their cats were jumping around. "It even sounded like a light explosion," he said.  

Don made the walk up the steps and at the top he saw fire in the bathroom.

"I started yelling 'fire, fire fire'." Don said. "Every step I took it felt like 1,000 degrees hotter,"

Sylvia said she ran upstairs and saw the fire and then ran for the garden hose to try to put the fire out. But there was no water pressure, possibly because of an electrical problem. Fire investigators said the fire started in the attic, but are not sure of the cause.

"But I felt my hair sizzling . . .my jacket was on fire," she said.

The couple ran back into the house to make sure their cats were safe.

 "I looked at the fire, the wall and ceiling and hoped the cats were out," she said. 

"I saw the cats run out," Don said.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, the couple was outside and had sustained serious burns. 

When Don arrived at the burn center in Augusta, he said he was given morphine and tubes were put in his throat.

 "The doctor told me I would need skin grafts . .. and I just nodded," he said Thursday afternoon.

"I wanted to ask, 'where's my wife?' . . .I was doped up and I had no idea," he said.

Don didn't realize his wife was flown to a separate hospital which later upset them. Without family and no phone numbers, they communicated through social workers at the hospital.

Sylvia's sister, Gladys, who lives in New York learned about the fire on the Internet and tried to contact the family. Don's family is in Chicago.

Now almost two weeks later, the couple is grateful for every act of kindness.

The couple's neighbor, Daniel Williams, has been the mode of transportation for doctors' appointments. He also took them to the fire scene.  Although they have automobiles, they cannot drive because of their burns on their hands.

After being released from the hospital, they have received assistance through the American Red Cross, including some nights at the hotel. They have paid the hotel bill through Tuesday, but want to stay there until the can get transitional housing. 

 "But until we get better and we heal some more, Don began, "there isn't anything we can do about housing."

Since they are at the hotel, they have been walking to nearby restaurants, but admitted home-cooked food would be great.

"I love pulled pork," Don said. "But we are fine." 

With Sylvia smiling beside him, Don commented, "After two weeks, she is beginning to smile." 

"We are seeing the best of Rutherford County . . .people have been so helpful and so nice to us. We loved Rutherford County anyway . . .now I really love it," Don said while walking down the hall for a cup of coffee at the hotel. "We loved that house ...and we hope we can rebuild . . . We are taking it one day at a time."