VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — For Chloe Garcia, Halloween is a fun night of costumes and candy. But for the Virginia Beach girl, the day is also a painful reminder of the past.
A few days before Halloween 2015, Garcia and her family were lighting a Halloween pumpkin when it blew up in her face.
The explosion left the then four-year-old preschooler disfigured.
Chloe suffered first and second degree burns on her face, neck and hands.
She was in intensive care at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters for days – and that was just the start of the struggle for her and her family.
“Just seeing how her skin looked. She had 12 surgeries,” mom Melanie said.
In February, we spoke with Melanie at the Shriner’s Burn Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio and she shared her daughter’s painful recovery.
The best chance for her to heal the deep scars on her face was to get a specially made plastic mask from the Shriner’s Hospital.
The mask helped keep the scars from pulling on her face as she grows, keeping it from becoming more misshapen.
Now five years old, Garcia continue to recover from her burns.
“Right now she’s currently not wearing her mask. She’s in the next phase and in December they’ll be cutting her lip, doing a skin graft, waiting about a week and a half and then getting a new half mask,” Melanie said.
Her first day of kindergarten this year was tough, according the Melanie.
“There were a couple of kids that said, ‘What happened? Why is her lip like that? Why does her face look like that?’ And at that point I kind of lost it.”
But all of that is in the past.
As mom and grandma watched Chloe play among the pumpkins, something that should bring up scary memories, they realize instead this holiday is about making new memories.
Chloe is a candy princess for Halloween this year and she runs around the farm like the rest of the kids there.
After all that has happened, the painful time spent in the hospital, the stares she gets from strangers and the uncomfortable mask that helps her heal, Chloe seems happier than ever.
“I think with this accident it’s changed her, it’s made her grow more, and she’s just so happy,” Melanie said. “Before the accident, she was more quiet, now she’s a little chatterbox.”
A spirited little chatterbox who’s quickly overcoming a life-altering accident.
“So she’s really not afraid of pumpkins, just the lighting? ” I asked.
Melanie explained that Chloe was afraid of pumpkins at first until she understood that the actual pumpkin was not the enemy.
About the accident
Chloe and a 42-year-old man were hospitalized after they were badly burned trying to light a pumpkin.
The man had Chloe in his arms at the time.
They had carved the insides out of the pumpkin and started to make a sketch on the outside of it, witnesses said. The man was trying to show Chloe what the pumpkin would look like when it was lit. He turned it upside down and put a grill lighter inside of it.
“She was leaning over to look and it just went up in flames,” Chloe’s mother said. “I hear this big loud woosh noise. I can’t even describe how loud it was. It sounded like the whole house fell and caved in.”
Fire investigators said while the man was lighting the pumpkin with the lighter, fumes were building up inside of the pumpkin and because the face was not carved out yet, there was no room for the fumes to escape when the man lit it. This caused a flash fire, investigator said.