In October 2006, Camryn Higgins suffered second- and third-degree burns to 65 percent of his body in an accidental backyard explosion at his Bastrop, Texas home. It was a Sunday morning, and he and his family was cleaning up after a seventh birthday party for Camryn the day before. His father was getting ready to light the grill for some outdoor cooking. Camryn, carrying a few chairs, also grabbed a lighter to take to his dad. But he tripped on a sidewalk and fell, and somehow the lighter emitted a spark. This ignited fumes from a nearby gas can.
"The backyard was full of smoke and I started hollering, 'Where's my baby, where's my baby?'" recalled Carl Higgins. "Finally he ran in front of me, and I noticed that he was on fire."
Emergency crews blocked traffic on a nearby highway and a medical helicopter landed to get the child to the Burn Center at Shriners Hospital for Children, in Galveston. Camryn was put on life support and doctors worried he would not survive. But several days later, the boy awoke to his astonished and deeply worried parents. Then the recovery had to begin--which included very painful baths to keep him from getting life-threatening infections.
"I remember every morning before they told me to get in the tub room, they asked: 'Do you want the pain pill or the pain popsicle?'" said Camryn, now 11 years old. "That tub room is no joke," said Camryn's father, Carl Higgins. "I don't think a grown man could sit there and go through that pain those kids went through."
"Every time it was time for him to go to the tub room, he called for prayer," remembered Camryn's mother, Katina White Higgins. "So we would call the pastor and pray early in the morning before Camryn went in."
"He would not enter that room unless we prayed; that was the only way he would go in. He would say, 'No, I'm not going in until we have prayer.' And then they had a CD that he liked, so we would put his music on and it was easier for Camryn."
"The hardest thing a parent will ever have to see is their child get scrubbed until they bleed," the mother continued. "You see that blood flowing in that tub and it's just a horrible thing. It's like pieces of your child just going down the drain and it's a horrible feeling."
The scrubbings were designed to remove the dead skin from Camryn's face, arms and torso. The medical staff at the Burn Center of the Shriners Hospital for Children rubbed hard to keep the boy's wounds from becoming infected.
But the good news is that at her moment of despair, Camryn's mom saw a therapist. "I went and spoke with the therapist and she gave me some really good advice. She said, 'Write everything down; write it all down.'" The result of that is "Camryn's Fire," a book that lays out the journey this family traveled on their way back to physical and emotional health. It was a journey that took Camryn's parents to the brink of divorce and their extended families to broken relations.
"I wanted to find out what was causing these things to happen and now I know the answer," Katina White Higgins said. "The answer is I'm being made by God to do this, and I'm going to be so much better after this is over. We were strong enough to take it and make something positive out of it, so that we can be advocates for children to be safe."
Camryn's mom is working on a new book called "I Am Different But We're All the Same." It's going to talk about a child who has been burned and who is coming back into the world with kids who are not burned. "We'll touch on how the child will look different after being burned, but the heart is the same and the love and the friendship is the same." Higgins plans to market the book in hospitals and schools to help children cope with such tragedies.
As for Camryn, here's an update: Every day, he slathers a medical cream over his scars and then does a round of push-ups. He's working out in anticipation of a summer football camp, to be followed by play on his school team in the fall. "When I grow up," he said, "I'm planning on going to University of Texas and playing football there," he said.
As for his scars: "My friend from a burn camp has her mom tell people that her burns were a tattoo from God showing his love," said Camryn. "So I really don't care what people think about how I look. I just care what I think. I think I look beautiful."
Then he smiled and struck a few body-builder poses. His parents smiled back, like people who have felt a heavy weight lifted from their hearts.