A nasty tale of events, but a very kuul story!

Survivor carries flag for other burn victims. A decade after horrific crash, woman a passionate advocate for burn facility

Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist Published: Friday, March 14, 2008

She was 23, going out for coffee with a friend when her car was broadsided by another and pushed into a ravine.

Her friend died instantly. Heidi Cave, however, was hanging upside down, suspended by her seatbelt, in a burning car.

"I was trapped," she says. "I was conscious, and I was on fire."

She remembers little of what happened next, although she knows now that firefighters pulled her from the wreckage and took her to an Abbotsford hospital. She was later transferred to Vancouver General Hospital.

"I learned that 52 per cent of my body had been badly burned," she said. "I had burns down to muscle and bone. I learned that my right leg had been amputated below the knee because of the severity of my burns."

It wasn't long before her left leg had to be amputated as well.

Over the following weeks and months, she underwent 20 surgeries as doctors took skin from her head, arms and back to graft over the burns.

In all, she spent seven months in hospital and five at the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.

"This is how I came to be a burn survivor and an amputee -- not the role a girl dreams of while growing up," she said. "But this is the role I was thrown into. Life can change in an instant.

"I used to say that this car crash and all that came with it was a detour in my life. And I have discovered over the last 10 years that couldn't be further from the truth. It is a part of the journey I am on."

Wednesday, a decade after the crash, that journey brought Cave to the B.C. legislature, where she spoke in support of plans for a B.C. Professional Fire Fighters' Burn Fund Building. The $25-million facility slated for construction at Main Street and 23rd Avenue in Vancouver will give burn victims and their families a place to stay while in town for treatment or visiting a loved one. It will also provide researchers a place to investigate new methods of caring for burns, and firefighters a place to teach children about fire prevention and safety.

The building will complement the care burn victims receive at the firefighters' burn-and-trauma unit at Vancouver General, as well as the burn program at B.C. Children's Hospital.

Health Minister George Abbott pumped $2 million into the project Wednesday, while Housing Minister Rich Coleman earlier contributed $2 million for the eight units that will house burn survivors and their families.

For Cave, the new facility holds the possibility of improving her quality of life.

"I struggle with skin breakdown often," she said. "Scarred skin and prosthetic legs don't take too kindly to each other. I've been told that my skin breakdown is terminal, and I would love to say that this isn't a big deal, that it's OK. But while I am OK, how much improved could my life be without my skin breaking down, causing pain?'

Now married to the man she had only been dating six weeks at the time of the crash, Cave has a two-year-old and a four-year-old.

"I'm not jumping out of planes or climbing mountains," she said. "I'm mostly with my kids doing those day-to-day things. The research that will be done regarding wounds is a source of hope for me, and I'm sure for many, many others like me, living ordinary lives with extraordinary circumstances."

lkines@tc.canwest.com

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008