Two-and-a-half year-old Riley Dunsmore looks like a healthy young boy as he plays with his neighbourhood friends and zips by on his scooter. But take a closer look and it’s clear Riley is fighting a battle that his friends can only imagine.
Riley is fighting to recover from severe burns he suffered while camping March 17 at Upper Campbell Lake with his mom Cami Gareau and dad Ronnie Dunsmore.
Riley tripped on what Gareau believes was a stick and fell belly down into the campfire while his mom was preparing dinner.
“I just grabbed him,” Gareau said after Riley’s ski jacket ignited. “Panick, I guess. Shock. It was a gut reaction to just grab him and lay him down on his face. Then I flipped him over but his chest was still on fire so I used my hands to put him out.”
Gareau said she burned her fingers but it was only minor compared to the damage Riley suffered. The flames leapt up and burnt Riley’s neck, cheeks, tongue, hands and arms.
Gareau said she flew down Highway 28 and arrived with Riley at Campbell River Hospital around 7 p.m. Gareau said doctors put cool compresses on his burns and his skin started to peel. Riley was then flown to B.C. Children’s Hospital and arrived around midnight. Riley was immediately taken in for surgery to check for damage to his throat. Gareau said the two-hour wait for Riley to come out of surgery was agonizing.
“It was hell waiting,” Gareau said. “I paced and cried.”
She said doctors told her Riley stopped breathing while on the operating table because the morphine he had been given earlier all kicked in at once.
“The first time I saw him, he had a tube in his throat,” Gareau said, fortunately there was no long-term damage to his lungs or throat.
But Riley is not out of the woods yet. A plastic surgeon has been monitoring the bubbles that have formed on his hands and is concerned the burns are healing from the inside, instead of out as they should be. Gareau said if they don’t start to heal properly, Riley will have to have surgery to cut out the damaged skin and replace it with skin grafts.
“He told me I’m looking at two months in Vancouver if he has to have skin grafts,” Gareau said.
The family is already making trips back and forth from Vancouver once a week.
Since the accident, Riley has had five burn baths, which can only be done at Children’s Hospital. During the baths, Riley is sedated and soaked in special soap which allows doctors to peel dead skin from his body using tweezers. Then polysporin is applied to the burns. Riley has burn baths every Monday and undergoes hyperbaric chamber treatments in Victoria. The treatment improves the body’s natural healing process by the inhalation of oxygen in a pressurized chamber. The only problem is the treatment is not covered by medical insurance and sessions cost $100 each time. So far, the family has racked up $500 in hyperbaric chamber treatments alone, not including the endless tubes of polysporin the family has had to buy, as well as morphine pills.
A group of family friends have pulled together to organize a dance on Riley’s behalf for this Saturday. Family friend Tina Adams said there are still a lot of tickets that need to be sold. The dance starts at 7 p.m., doors at 6:30 p.m. at the Quinsam Hall (761 Nursery Road). Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the Quinsam Liquor Store, Smart Style Salon, Bubble’s Laundry and Video Gallery at Saratoga.
All proceeds will go to Riley’s burn recovery. Rides home from the dance will be provided.
Gareau said Riley’s spirits are high and he is slowly recovering.
“He’s a very active kid and it hasn’t slowed him down much,” Gareau said. “He’s a very strong little boy, in good spirits, and very happy during the day. He’s always on the go. It’s just going to be a long road to recovery.”