“It was a horrific scene of her being covered in bubbles and welts and her skin being melted away,” mom Brandi tells PEOPLE of her daughter Kennedy’s accident
Teenage girls today enjoy keeping up with the latest beauty trends, whether it’s perfecting a skincare routine, stocking up on Sephora makeup must-haves, or even something as simple as painting their nails.
However, one Ohio teenager is sharing a warning after the simple task of removing her nail polish left her hospitalized with third-degree burns.
Kennedy, 14, was at her Xenia, Ohio, home on Jan. 5 getting ready to join her cheerleading team for a school basketball game. She was in her bedroom removing her nail polish while sitting close to a burning candle.
“I had to take my fingernail polish off because it's not in uniform and as I was taking it off I had a candle near me on my bed,” Kennedy, 14, tells PEOPLE, noting that she’s done the same routine many times before. “As I was setting the bottle of nail polish remover down on my bed the fumes kind of just mixed together and the bottle exploded in my hand. It caught me and everything near me on fire.”
“I was really scared and I was screaming and just trying to do as much as I could to stop me being on fire and just get out,” she explains, adding that her bed, clothes, arms, hands and hair caught on fire.
At the time, Kennedy’s parents were at work and she was home alone with her four siblings, two of whom burst into her bedroom after hearing her screams. Kennedy was able to put out the fire on her body and the siblings made it out of the house to call 911 after closing the door to Kennedy’s burning bedroom.
“It’s nothing I've ever been through before. I was still in a lot of shock but after the adrenaline wore down, I was in a lot of pain,” she says.
“It was a horrific scene of her being covered in bubbles and welts and her skin being melted away,” adds Kennedy’s mother, Brandi, 34, who arrived back home at the same time as the ambulance and fire trucks. “It was a wild experience.”
Kennedy was then transported to Shriners Children’s Hospital — a pediatric facility specializing in burn care — in Dayton, Ohio and was treated by Dr. Sara Higginson, chief of staff, who was working as the on-call burn surgeon.
Immediately after arriving at Shriners, Higginson says Kennedy underwent a major procedure to clean her wounds and remove the dead skin.
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On Jan. 17, the teen also underwent a surgical excision and grafting procedure, which is designed to promote wound healing and reduce the risk of infection by removing unhealthy tissue.
“Kennedy ended up having full thickness injuries on her abdomen, both thighs and then her right arm. And the other areas she was able to heal without having to have it excised and grafted,” Higginson tells PEOPLE. “But she did have pretty extensive injuries to kind of the whole front side of her.”
Although the full healing process following skin grafts takes about a year, doctors say Kennedy’s progress has been incredible so far.
“Kennedy's a little warrior. She really has pushed through everything and they're really surprised at how well she's healing,” Brandi says. “Three weeks later... it's just amazing how it looks now. Doctors say she's going to have minimal scarring, minimal everything. Their goal is to make sure she's comfortable with her body afterwards so we are very appreciative of them.”
“I've been healing really well and no big bumps have occurred,” Kennedy says, sharing that her hands have healed enough for her to put her cheerleading bow in her hair by herself. “The whole process of the skin grafts healing takes about a year, a little over. So by next year, maybe in March or April, I should be completely done with the healing process.”
Higginson says that in the meantime, Kennedy will continue physical and occupational therapy at Shriners, which vows to stay with their patients until they are 18 to 21 years old.
“Moving forward we'll do a laser treatment every two months for six to 10 treatments to really make sure that all of the scarring is as functional as it can be,” Higginson says. “Kennedy's awesome and she's moved through this process actually fairly fast and I think it's a testament to her mental toughness.”
Now, Kennedy and Brandi are hoping to raise awareness and use her story as a reminder for people to be more mindful of their surroundings.
“Most kids in high school know that an open flame and an accelerant don't belong together but sometimes we just don't think of these things,” Brandi explains. “And then teaching your kids fire safety as well because if they didn't know to shut that door, they all could have all been hurt.”
“So just basic fire safety and awareness of your surroundings because things can change at the drop of a hat,” she tells PEOPLE. “Accidents really do happen.”
Meanwhile, Higginson admits that although this is her first burn accident involving nail polish remover, she’s treated many young patients due to accidents involving open flames.
“I think it’s important to have a three feet safety buffer between flames, be they a fire pit, a candle, the stove,” she says. “A big plus is that Kennedy understands how it could have been different and her desire to make sure that we get the message out.”
Higginson adds, “We need to really think about what am I doing right now and how can I make this safer so that it doesn't happen to somebody else? Because it's a fairly common scenario for a teenager so I love that she really wants to make sure to get a safety message out about flames and flammable liquids.”
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