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A Victim of Third Degree Burns Gets Support That Gives Her Hope–And Then She Gives Other Burn Victims Hope Too

An article back in July in the midwestern newspaper The Columbia Missourian told the heartwarming story of one woman coming to the aid of another woman who was the victim of third degree burns. This story also has lessons for anyone who kmnows someone who suffers severe burns.

Larisa Rudelson never knew Albina Lewis until she went to visit her in the burn unit at University Hospital in Columbia, MO. Both women are originally from Russia and now live in Columbia, so Rudelson understands that being away from one’s home can be very lonely, especially in such a situation that Lewis found herself in.

On February 23, Lewis’ apartment caught fire, and she could not escape in time to avoid being badly injured by severe burns. Her arms, hands, ears and one of her legs were damaged, but fortunately her face did not receive burns as serious as those on her extremities. These burn injuries kept her in University Hospital for more than four months, and recently she was moved to the St. John’s Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital in St. Louis.

Surgeries and extended stays at both hospitals have left Lewis and her husband, Craig, with enormous medical bills. But through word-of-mouth, Rudelson heard about Lewis’ accident a few months after it happened. Immediately struck by the fact that Lewis was from Russia, and without ever meeting her before, Rudelson wanted to help.

“I imagined that she is lonely over here, and I felt that I could help by showing support,” Rudelson said at a recent benefit for Lewis that was held at Studio B Dance Center in Columbia. Rudelson began visiting Lewis at University Hospital during her free time, but their interactions were always one-sided–Lewis had to have an emergency tracheotomy which left her speechless.

Rudelson is also connected within the Russian community in Columbia. She spread the word of Lewis’ situation and, soon thereafter, she was not the only Russian who visited Lewis in the burn unit. Russian priests came to visit her, and women from the Russian community gathered to host tea parties in her hospital room.

One of Lewis’ nurses was impressed by the outpouring of support from a community that had never met Lewis before the accident. “They didn’t just come once or twice. They were always coming by to let Albina know that there were people here for her, people that cared about her and were praying for her recovery,” the nurse said.

The nurse also talked about support that she saw from Lewis’ co-workers at ABC Labs. Although Lewis had only worked there for five months, the walls of her room at the burn unit were adorned with postcards and notes from her co-workers. “The postcards were just a nice reminder for Albina that people are thinking about her,” the nurse said.

Monica Logan is one co-worker who keeps abreast of Lewis’ progress. Logan also coordinated with Studio B Dance Center to set up a benefit to help offset some of Lewis’ high medical bills. In hopes to attract patrons to the event, free beginner dance lessons were offered by one owner of Studio B Dance Center.

A varied mix of co-workers, members of the Russian community, nurses from the University Hospital burn unit ICU and complete strangers gathered to help support the cause. Besides a requested donation of $15 from the patrons, there was also a silent auction of more than 30 gifts. Most of the gifts were gift certificates for local restaurants. All of the proceeds from the event were directly contributed to a fund for Lewis.

Lewis is very determined to get her abilities back. Her husband sometimes wakes up next to her in the hospital to find her doing bicycle exercises to make her legs strong again. And though Lewis is still rehabilitating in St. Louis — she had another surgery in July, and it might not be her last one–Logan said that Lewis’ determination gives friends and co-workers hope.