EVERETT — Life changed over a cup of hot apple cider.
In September 2018, Dayvion Escalante, then 7, took a drink of cider, unknowingly overheated by his mom in the microwave. The hot liquid burned his mouth and jolted him to drop it in his lap, spilling to his feet.
His mother, Keileanna, rushed him to the emergency room hospital at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett for what she thought was a minor burn.
“I thought they would bandage him up and be done,” she said.
It was just the beginning.
Dayvion was transported by ambulance to Harborview Medical Center where he spent over two months. He said it seemed like he was in the hospital for about a year.
His mom, a single parent who was four months pregnant at the time, juggled being with him and his sister, two years older.
The burn and wound care was extensive and painful for Dayvion. It hurt to move. Steam from his food tray spooked him.
“I’m brave,” Dayvion said. “I just went through it.”
At times he wanted to give up.
That was two years ago. Today, the Hawthorne Elementary School third grader rides his bike and plays ball, but it has been a long ordeal. And it still isn’t over. There are scars inside and out. He was burned in his inner thighs and buttocks.
“He goes through PTSD,” his mom said. “He doesn’t like anything hot to this day. He’s confident talking about it now.”
At first he wouldn’t.
“When they ask me I just tell them,” he said.
“He still asks, ‘Is my scar ever going to heal?” his mom said. “He still trembles. He gets bruises that bubble up.”
She credits the Burned Children Recovery Foundation with making it easier from the get-go.
”They helped with gas and food and physical therapy,” she said. “Other parents got a GoFundMe and stuff but I didn’t really want that attention.”
She said it helped for Dayvion to meet Michael Mathis, who started the Everett-based foundation 31 years ago.
“When they met it was a big thing for Dayvion. He saw, ‘Look at this guy, look what he went through,’” she said.
Mathis, 66, was 11 and an all-star baseball player when a friend poured gasoline on a fire that exploded in his face. He spent over three months at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“My parents broke up because of this injury,” Mathis said.
He had a difficult time readjusting to school.
“I came home every day upset, crying. I was being bullied stared and laughed at,” he said. “I played sports, that’s what drove me back. The negative wasn’t enough to keep me from doing it.”
Mathis encourages children to pursue a passion.
“I had things in my life I wanted to go back to,” he said.
Mathis had more than 60 surgeries. He graduated from Meadowdale High School, served in the Air Force and worked at Boeing.
People still point and stare at him.
“They’re not doing this on purpose. It’s a reaction. They’re not prepared for what they are seeing and are processing what their eyes are seeing,” he said.
It’s something he talks to children about.
“People do not know how to react when they see a child without a nose or ears or missing fingers,” he said. “They can’t take away reaction. They have to go out and learn to accept it and deal with life. We all perceive our lives through the mirror.”
He and his wife, Kathleen, run the foundation from their Everett home. It helps with counseling and financial aid to families with transportation, activities and bills.
“We’re not just here to help the children,” Mathis said. “The families are struggling, too.”
He sponsors Camp Phoenix for about 60 children nationwide. “We target the worst burned kids,” he said.
The weeklong camp, held in Bellingham, was canceled this year due to COVID-19. Many fundraisers, such as firefighter pancake breakfasts and gala auctions, also couldn’t happen. There were no parades to show off the foundation’s 1971 fire truck.
“We generally have 55 fundraisers throughout the year. Because of COVID we only had three,” Mathis said.
Instead of giving $500 gift cards to 10 families this year, there will be only enough funds for five. Dayvion’s family received a gift card last year.
The foundation helped Dayvion’s mom get tires for her car and cover the fee for him to play sports. Not only that, he went to Camp Phoenix in 2019 where he met with other children disfigured by burns. His older sister got to go along, too.
“He made friends his age. They fly people in from all around the United States,” his mom said. “When he gets older he can come back and be a counselor and tell his story and keep that connection. Maybe find a girlfriend and get married.”
Not so fast. He’s only 9.
The foundation provides emotional support for her family
“It’s a community of people you can relate with,” she said. “My neighbors don’t understand and my family didn’t know what to do to handle it.”
She got him into counseling. She went, too.
“For a long time I blamed myself,” she said.
Burns are often associated with flames, not hot food.
Mathis said liquid burns are the most common for children, from hot coffee, cups of soup, spilled pans and even bath water.
Andrea Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.
How to help
Burned Children Recovery Foundation, 409 Wood Place, Everett, WA 98203