Arely Grageola: My Story, My Words

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Arely Grageola: My Story, My Words

May 2003

I was about to turn five years old, my dad was working in construction at the time so he had all his machines and equipment stored in the yard next to our house. I was playing with my brothers in the yard when a hose with gasoline caught on fire and landed on me, my shirt caught on fire and I started running around the yard. My parents weren’t home at the time, my brothers were trying to put me out but the fire had spread too much, my neighbor had heard us and he came over with a bucket of water to put me out.

We were living in Tijuana at the time, I was taken to a hospital that was near my house. After a couple weeks, I was flown to Shriners in Sacramento because the hospital I was in didn’t have the right equipment to treat burns. In Shriners, I was put on an induced coma for a couple weeks and had to stay in the hospital for about two months, I had 3rd degree burns in about 53% of my body.

I remember the volunteers and staff that were in charge of activities had a birthday party for me when I turned five in July and I got so many presents, including a teddy bear that had bandage around its head like I did. I only remember some parts and events from my stays in the hospital when I was younger but I do remember my mom and I would fly or take the train from San Diego to get to Sacramento very often and had long stays in the hospital. I had a lot of reconstructive surgeries, skin grafts, tissue expanders and a lot of physical therapy.

I also remember I used to hate hot days because I had to wear pressure garments under my clothes and I hated putting on sunscreen. I only had to wear the pressure garments when I was younger but I kept going to Shriners for treatments and appointments until I turned 21.

My scars are spread throughout my body, my whole back and stomach are burned, my left arm, left ear and some part of my face but I also have some scars on the back of my legs. I never thought anything of my scars when I was younger, sometimes I forgot they were even there but it never bothered me that I looked different. As an adult, I became more self-conscious and started noticing them more, I started hiding my scars with my clothes and realized I was what we call in the burn community a hidden burn survivor, which means I can hide them pretty easy or they’re in places that aren’t as visible. I love telling people about my burns and love sharing my story because I believe it brings awareness but even then, I still try to hide them as much as possible.

I found out about the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation because the social worker at Shriners told my parents about summer camp they had every year for burn survivors, I went for the first time when I was six years old and I loved it. Whenever I tell people now about camp and all the events I get to attend through AARBF, I feel like the member of a very private club. I wouldn’t change anything that happened to me, I feel very grateful to Shriners because it always felt like a home to me, I loved all my nurses and doctors, they would call my mom “mamá” all the time and they were always super happy to see my family and I when I had follow-ups. I was also very lucky because even though I had to stay months at a time in Sacramento, I was able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House and made friends I still talk to today and at the events for AARBF, I met many of my role models and my best friends.

Something I’ve struggled the most with is thinking that as soon as people see me, they immediately think about my scars and get stuck on that, I started to avoid meeting new people because I didn’t want to be judged but it takes time to realize that people are just curious and they usually never have bad intentions. People have questions and it’s ok to have our story ready to go for when this happens so that we can answer everything but it’s also ok to not want to answer, to change the topic or to keep it to ourselves if we’re not ready to share.

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing everyday.”